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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why What?

It will never cease to amuse me when adults answer a question from my children with a thoughtful, long, detailed response and are then baffled by the toddlers’ illogical response.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the adult speaking to my children as if they, too, were adults. I like that. It shows respect and understanding of human development to a certain degree, and it will help the babies learn the correct usage of the language more quickly. So for that, I am thankful. I would take an adult response in paragraph form any day over the baby-voiced cutsie-wootsie babble that many adults will use to talk to my kids…as if they were adorable little animals, not to be taken seriously.

Still, when giving an adult response, you have to be aware of the fact that the babies probably aren’t going to follow your train of thought, so that when they repeat themselves (like they do a million times a day) right after you’ve explained it, don’t be alarmed. It’s not that they weren’t listening (it’s only me they ignore), it’s that they don’t quite understand, and they only have a rudimentary way of letting you know.

Yesterday, I got a brief visit from an older woman who has remained childless. The babies, of course, accosted her in the front lobby, since every visitor is always coming to see and play with them. But she was only staying for a moment. She had her mother in the car, and they were about to run some errands. As she turned to leave, the babies asked her, "Why go outside?"

She crouched down and explained to them in full-sentence detail that she had her own mom in the car and that they were going to drive around town now to do some errands. Satisfied with herself, she rose and turned to leave, only to hear my babies ask her as she turned the knob, "why go outside?"

She paused and turned back to look at me, a bit helplessly, as if to say, I just told them why. What more detail could they want in my explanation.

I ran interference, and repeated what she'd already told them, then had them wave at the mother in the car to give them a concrete image of what was outside that the woman would be leaving us for. It helped a little, though after she left, they did turn to me and asked, "why go outside?"

I laughed.

Relaying the story to my husband last night, he beamed. "Well, when we don't understand something, we ask again. Adults do that all the time. They just find different words for the repetition."

And he's right. The kids might ask you the same question a million and one times, but it's not because they're not paying attention. It's that they can't picture what you are saying, or you used a word they don't yet understand, or they're really asking a different question, and the answer to the question they asked isn't appropriate to the question they meant to ask.

In this case, when they asked, "why go outside?" they meant, "wouldn't you rather stay here and play with us?" Since her answer didn't include any apology or reference to playing with them, they were left confused, even though that's not what they actually asked.

But the whole post shows that the woman was right to address them like full human beings, since their reaction was not so different from an adult's after all. It was just framed in a more immature way.

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  1. I talk to the littles like I'd talk to an adult, just edited for content. ;-) I do play a little trick on them: when they're asking the same thing over & over because they want attention (my people do this, I don't know that all littles do), I give them an awesome long-winded, advanced vocabulary answer. I don't know if they're then satisfied by the obvious gravity & attention or I've bored them. They seem content either way.

  2. One of my favorite tricks to stop the flow of whys and whats after they've gone on too long is to ask *them* why.

  3. Sometimes when I get really annoyed I find myself giving Aias a long explanation of something, and then when I stop talking he goes "um ok." Cracks me up. He has no idea what I'm saying or what he's saying.



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