Toddlers and the 7 levels of why

by Matt on September 17, 2012 · 1 comment

If you have raised a smart toddler, or even if you have hung out with one for as little as five minutes, you have probably heard them ask the question, “Why?” This little word can ruin the brightest day, frustrate the eternal optimist, and get under the skin of even the most even-keeled parent. Why? (See what I did there?) Because it is the question with no end in sight. It is the question that doesn’t always have an answer. It is the question that sometimes in unexplainable to the limited mind of a toddler. It is a question that we still ask ourselves sometimes. Here is how a typical conversation with an intelligent toddler will progress.

The First Level – Cause & Effect

The first level of why is usually explained by cause and effect. For example, my daughter may ask me, “Daddy, why is the sidewalk wet?” To which I would reply, “Because it rained this morning.” Rain causes things to become wet. Simple enough. You would think that she’d be satisfied with that answer, but nooooo.

The Second Level – Chain Reactions

“But why did it rain, Daddy?” she follows up. “Because it was cloudy, and sometimes clouds bring rain.” This is a simple addition to the process. Clouds bring rain, and rain makes things wet. You think you have answered her question directly enough that there is no need for follow up, but you’re wrong again. She wants to know “Why?” not “How?”

The Third Level (part A) – Basic Human Needs

“No, Daddy, why did it rain?” she repeats, because she now thinks you’re an idiot, “Because people like farmers need the rain for plants and flowers to grow. That’s what makes our food.” You think you have been thorough, but she asks again.

The Third Level (part B)– Simple Science

“But why do clouds make rain?” she continues. To which you reply, “Clouds make rain because they are made of tiny particles of water. These tiny particles eventually become so big that they fall to the ground because they get too heavy for the cloud to hold them up.”

The Fourth Level – Real Science

“Why can’t the clouds hold up the rain?” Notice how she has lost the original question. She now wants to know something else since you brought it up. “There Is a principle at work on planet earth called gravity. Gravity pulls down things as their mass increases. The mass of the rain droplets found in the clouds increases so much that it cannot help but fall due to gravity.” Take that!

The Fifth Level – Mythical Stuff

“Why is there grab-ity?” she may ask. At this point, you’ve about had it. So you just make up some crap that you think will distract her and move her onto another activity. “Well, you see, there are these giants up in the sky, and they don’t like it when things from earth come up toward the sky, so they huff and puff and blow everything back down to earth. If you throw a ball up in the air, they will blow it like a bubble and it will come right back down. Let’s go out in the yard and try it!”

The Sixth Level – Terrible Things Will Happen To Inquisitive Children

“Why don’t the giants like our stuff, Daddy?” she asks. And can you really blame her? You did this to yourself. Now you have to get desperate and try something so low that you can’t even believe you’re saying it as it comes out of your mouth. “Well…” you begin, trying to think on the fly, “The giants don’t want me to tell their secret to any little boys and girls. They said if I tell any little boys and girls about why they blow all of our stuff back down to earth like bubbles, they will come down here to earth and gobble up all of the cookies so that there are none for the kids!” You should be ashamed, really.

The Seventh Level – The Spousal Privilege

“Daddy, why do all of the giants want to eat our cookies?!” she panics. You tell her the only logical thing you can think of at this point, “Go ask your mother (or father!)” And the cycle begins again!

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