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Why, Why, Why Are Some 3-Year-Olds Always Asking "Why?"

Photo by Simone Becchetti / Stocksy United / 321592
Photo by Simone Becchetti / Stocksy United

By Cheryl Flanders

“It’s time to brush your teeth.”


“Because we brush our teeth at bedtime.”


“Because we want to have healthy teeth.”


“So we can…chew.”


And before your preschooler can throw out another “why,” you shut the line of questioning down. You’re tired, you don’t have easy answers, and you don’t want to be at this all night.

Your inquisitive three-year-old has become the preschool king of why. And you want to know…well…why?

The Why Behind Their Repetitive Questions

Your child probably uses the why word for the same reason you do: to get information about a world they don’t fully understand. Preschoolers have only been in the world for a short while, after all, so life experience is minimal, but their wonder and imagination is huge! Here’s why: At this age, their brains are developing rapidly and they’re trying—really trying—to connect the dots in their always new and fascinating world.

It’s also likely that your preschooler doesn’t really want to know all the answers to their queries. Mostly they want to let you know that something you said and something they observed is interesting. When they ask why, it means they’re curious and wants to explore it further by talking about it with you.

Granted, preschoolers don’t have the vocabulary necessary to initiate a full-on dialogue, nor the language comprehension to understand a lengthy answer. But to them, this ritual of brushing teeth with flavored paste before bed is thought-provoking—and they want to talk about it however they can.

But of course, you don’t always have the answers. And listening to “why” over and over again can indeed be exhausting. So how can a why-weary parent respond to the interrogation?

Photo by © Rob and Julia Campbell/Stocksy
Photo by Rob and Julia Campbell / Stocksy

Parenting a 3-Year-Old During the Why Phase

Instead of putting yourself in the position of why-answerer, try turning the tables. Become the why-asker! Ask your preschooler why they think it’s good to brush their teeth before bed.

Open-ended questions allow your child to do the thinking and develop critical-thinking skills, which are the foundation of learning. After all, they asked the thought-provoking questions in the first place, so help their noodle ponder the reasons why. If your child is a little older, you may ask if they want to look up the answer with you. Researching the answer together can leave your child feeling more empowered.

A joyful moment is also a potential added bonus to turning the tables on the why-asker. Sometimes children will try to get the real reason why, but other times, they might settle for a silly reason, and their explanation will undoubtedly leave you both in stitches of laughter.

And if you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s okay to say you don’t know. Admitting that you don’t have all the answers all the time can show your child that the quest to answer the question “why” never ends.

In the end, the more likely reason for all the why questions is that a simple conversation about the ritual of bedtime tooth brushing—what it looks like, feels like, tastes like—and the connection with you (the most important person in their world) are all they really want.

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