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Why It’s Pointless To Ask A Child ‘Why?’

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September 4, 2013 by Jen Cudmore

When my son was little, I remember asking him why he misbehaved. I don’t recall what he did wrong, but I know I never got a straight answer. Then I learned asking a child “why” is pointless from Dr. James Dobson. (Sorry, but I don’t recall the exact book. It was either Strong-willed Child or Dare to Discipline -both excellent parenting resources.)

Children are impulsive. They do childish things for no reason at all. Sometimes they are angry. Sometimes they are curious. Sometimes they are overly excited. When they’re overcome with emotion, they react without thinking.

Definition of impulsive: acting without forethought

synonyms: impetuous, spontaneous, hasty, passionateuninhibited;

So asking a child “why” won’t get you anywhere because they don’t know. They weren’t thinking. They just did it. Our job as moms is to teach them to think before they act, a task that takes years for children to learn. As children grow older, they transition from hitting and biting to buying games off the internet without checking with parents, or grabbing candy bars off the shelf without paying. The behavior seems rewarding and they simply react. There is no reason. Over time they understand there are penalties for impulsive behavior and they must behave in ways that bring positive consequences rather than negative.

As my children have gotten older and a little less impulsive, sometimes we discuss what they were thinking right before they misbehaved. Then we can talk through curbing impulses and thinking through all behaviors beforehand.

I’ve watched mothers corner their small children and demand an answer, standing at a stalemate for several minutes, and it breaks my heart. The mother tries so hard to get an answer that cannot be given. Impulsiveness is just part of being a kid. Rather than focusing on why our kids misbehave, let’s focus on teaching them self-control.


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