What Dads Need to Know: The Trouble With Why

By Betsy Brown Braun

You tell your child it’s time for bed. Instead of the pitter patter of feet running up the stairs, you get “Whyyyyyyy?”  All parents have heard it.  The funny thing is, you know your child isn’t really looking for an answer.  “Well, dear, your body needs sleep in order for the all the cells to grow…” certainly isn’t what your son is expecting to hear.

To the child, Whyyyyy? can serve many different purposes, the least common of which is actually finding out information.

Why? is most often a form of protest.  It‘s your child’s way of saying that he doesn’t like what you’ve just said or what is happening.  The synonym forWhyyyy? in this case is Wrong answer! And what he is hoping to hear is, “Okay, never mind, you don’t really have to go to bed.”

Sometimes Whyyy? is a stalling technique. It buys the child time before he has to comply with whatever is being asked of him.

Why? can be a means of holding your attention. You know, when your child repeats Why? in response to every answer you give, and then you realize you’re being duped?   This form of  Why? is often typical of 2.5 to 3.5 year old children, who are genuinely curious and look to you as the knower of everything.  At first it is kind of cute, watching your toddler’s curiosity grow. Then you realize he has discovered the key to keeping your attention. Not so cute, as he drives you nuts.

And of course, there are those times when your child actually does seek information. Those are the good Whys?, the ones we welcome as opportunities to learn and grow. Those Whys? have a beginning and an end.

Whyyyy? as a form of protest does not require an answer. So, why is it that parents commonly take the bait?  (And that was a real Why?)  It is faulty thinking that reasoning with your child is going to work. True, once in a very long while, it might work. But not often.  I know we all think our children are gifted. Regardless, reasoning with your child, gifted or not, doesn’t work because your child’s need to have his way trumps his desire to be reasonable. And even if the child might actually see the logic in your reasoning, in his world his desire outweighs yours.

He doesn’t actually care about the reason.   He wants what he wants.  Period.

Parents often work over time attempting to get their child to see things their way. They think that they actually can convince the child that they are right and to give up what the child is wanting.  Or they think that if they give enough reasons they will hit on just the right one. That cookie that you really want right now will ruin your appetite and you won’t be hungry for dinner. The only possible response from the child?  No, it won’t!

Here are some tips for dealing with Whyyyyy?

  1. To the overly inquisitive three year old with his repetitive Why?, it is okay not to answer. “I am all done answering your questions for now” works.  Ignore the next 100 Whys? They will stop.
  2. Do not take the bait when your older child protests your direction or response to a request. Do not even attempt to answer a Whyyyy? by reasoning. Your chances of reeling your child back in from the dark side are slim and none, regardless of how reasonable your answer.
  3. In response to Whyyy? calmly and confidently restate your request.  “It’s time for bed now. This is not a debate.”
  4. Stay on target.  No comments on what he wants or on his attempts to derail you.
  5. You can acknowledge his feelings. “I know you don’t want to go to bed, but it IS bedtime.
  6. Withstand the barrage of negativity about you, about you being the meanest mommy in the world, about how much he hates you, about his wanting to live in another family, and simply say, “Regardless of how you feel about me, it is bedtime.”
  7. Mind your anger. Stay level and calm. Your anger will only serve to fuel his battle. Remember, the warrior wants what he wants, and that includes most of all,winning.
  8. Despite your exhaustion over hearing his complaints, excuses, and arguments, you must not give in, thinking it would just be easier.  It will, in fact, be worse the next time.
  9. “Well, just this once” is never a good answer. It will backfire for sure.

Betsy Brown Braun, is the bestselling author of the award winning Just Tell Me What to Say (HarperCollins 2008), and You’re Not the Boss of Me (HarperCollins, 2010), also a best seller. A child development and behavior specialist, popular parent educator, and mother of adult triplets, and grandmother, she is a frequent speaker at educational and business conferences, has been a guest expert on Today, the Early Show, Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, Entertainment Tonight, Rachel Ray, Fox and Friends, and NPR, and has been cited in USA Today, the New York Times, Family Circle, Parents, Parenting, Woman’s Day, Real Simple, and Good Housekeeping among countless other publications and websites.  As the founder of Parenting Pathways, Inc., Betsy offers private consulting and parenting seminars as well. She and her husband live in Pacific Palisades, California.

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