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March 14, 2007 / missknowitall

When “why?” Is Not a Question Worth Answering.

Dear Little Miss,

I am the mother of 3 very intelligent, active, and rather high energy little children.  I have always believed that one of my jobs as a caring mother is to feed their curious little minds with all the knowledge I can.  I have always loved answering the million “Why?” questions that come up everyday because I feel that I am helping them and encouraging them to think and to be interested in the world around them.  However, I am starting to run into problems in this area with my oldest child now.  She is almost 9 and is extremely intelligent and mature for her age.  I want to continue fostering her desires for education but I’m starting to feel like she is abusing the “why?” question.  For example, we have always had the rule that we do not take markers, clay, food, or anything “messy” into stores.  I always explain this to the little kids and have told my oldest “why” since she was old enough to want to bring such things into the stores with her.  Now she tries to bring these things in, and when told no she says “But, why?”.  I am loading 2 other kids into a cart or stroller and don’t want to stop to answer this yet again.  I say, “Honey you know why”.  She says, “No I don’t”.  I say, “Please honey, I will explain later, please do NOT bring it in with you”.   She says, “But mom, won’t you at least tell me?”.  And it goes on and on and on to the point where I am starting to give in and just let her do what she wants.  So, my question is how do I stop her from using “Why” as a way to argue with me without making her feel like I’m not listening or caring?  Please help me.

Dear Why Ask Why,

You must have an amazing amount of patience and stamina to keep up with all those “why”s!  I would have thrown the dictionary at them and told them to figure it out themselves looooong ago.  It sounds like it has all worked out for you, though.  You do indeed have an extremely intelligent and smart little girl there.  She is so smart that she has figured out a way to throw a mature tantrum, to argue with you, and to wear you down and still manage to make it look like all she wants is to be educated and enlightened.  Ooooo she is good alright.  It makes you understand why parents still use the old “Because I said so!”.  The first person to say that didn’t do it to be mean or to stunt some innocent child’s learning abilities, it was said out of sheer survival instinct.  These days that phrase sounds almost dirty as we take our children to pre-pre-school and put our infants in front of Einstein videos, and worry about waiting lists for private schools to enhance there abilities to become geniuses and go to Yale or Harvard.  But the problem that is recurring with your eldest child really has nothing to do with education, learning, or the feeding of an active mind.  No, now we are dealing with manipulation and disrespect, both of which are dangerous traits to let a smart little girl be practicing.  I think you should have one, and only one, sit down chat with your little girl about this subject.  Let her know why you can’t always answer her “why”s.  Give her a big Dictionary, and show her an encyclopedia.  Now, tell her that you still want to help her learn but that she will have to do most of it herself.  Tell her that starting today she is only allowed to ask you 3 “why” questions a day and after that you will only say “You need to figure it out yourself”.  Tell her to use her “why”s carefully because they could easily be all used up in one little argument.  And no, she can’t save up her “why”s from days when she didn’t use them all =).  What ever you do, nip this problem in the bud now because I can promise you, once the other two little smarties you have catch on to their sister’s system they will be working the same angle with you and then you will really have a problem on your hands. 

Because I said so,

Miss Knowitall        

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