Updated: Jun 16
As toddlers become preschoolers, they bombard their parents and caregivers with why questions. In the course of just five minutes, you could be asked why the sky is blue, why do birds sing, why are spaghetti noodles are straight, why are our windows are dirty, why can't there be a refrigerators in my bedroom... you get it. We've all been there.
They’re not trying to drive us crazy (we think)-- they’re just curious.
But how do you raise curious learners without feeling like your trapped on a hamster wheel? By helping them channel that curiosity into more specific questions driven toward a purpose overtime such as part of solving a problem or gaining a new skill.
In fact, according to a Harvard study, preschoolers ask over 40,000 new questions between the ages of two and five. As kids grow and develop, they still ask the why questions, even if there aren’t as many. Sometimes they ask because they’re curious, sometimes they just want to make sure you know they’re listening, and sometimes they’re asking to be defiant.
It's not always easy to tell the why behind their why but your response is critical to raising a kiddo with a growth mindset.
When you introduce a new habit using our "My First Habit Tracker", your reasoning needs to be valid, satisfy their curiosity, and current. Talking about long-term benefits without using a specific example like "remember how mommy could only run 1 block but kept using that app to built up strength to run 3 miles" will result in a wandering mind that will frustrate both of you.
Introducing the practice of habit tracking at the end of the day is often a soft entry point.
Take bedtime routines, for example. Let’s say you’ve thought it out and decided to create a five-step, 15-minute bedtime routine in hopes of making bedtime a little less stressful. What you’re come up with looks something like this:
Step One: Put away toys and clean up.
Step Two: Light snack at the kitchen table.
Step Three: Go to the bathroom and brush your teeth.
Step Four: Choose and read a book together in bed.
Step Five: Nighlight on, lights out. Time to sleep.
You introduce the habit to them with a contagious level of optimism and lots of high fives. You talk about it in detail before actually deciding to try it out. When they ask why you’re doing this, you tell them that you’ve developed this new habit because you want to make sure they get enough sleep at night so their muscles grow and they have energy for the next day. When they ask why you chose these steps, you explain that they are the things that you feel are the most important when it comes to getting them into bed every night. You ask them if they have any questions. You answer them. You ask them if there is anything they want to change. There isn’t. You and your kiddo feel incredibly confident that this is going to go really well. Go ahead and put a win in the parenting column.
But then you actually try to utilize it and everything changes.
Your kids want to know why they have to clean up “right this second” and why they can’t finish what they’re doing. They want to know why they can’t have an extra cookie before bed and why they have to brush their teeth again if they just brushed them that morning. They ask why you didn’t put changing into pajamas on the list and they want to know why they can’t have four more stories and why you didn't bring them a glass of water for the table because they’re sooooo thirsty.
So much for the win...or so you think.
Reflect on what you know about child development. Do you think they’re asking these questions because they’re curious, because they just want to make sure you know they’re listening, or because they’re being defiant? Probably a little bit of each.
But let the why questions serve as a reminder that habit setting is messy and that’s totally okay. If it was easy, YOU would have all your habits on lock too but we're betting you have work to do on your habits too. You're human. We all do.
Of course you don’t want them to sleep in their clothes, nor do you want them to be thirsty all night. The key to answering their whys is to stay patient and have them help you modify the routine so their needs are met too. When they feel they have a voice, they are likely to take more ownership (or responsibility) in the process.
You might not always have all the answers all of the time, but if you can be open and honest with them when you’re introducing new habits, you’re much more likely to get them on board. Sitting down together to do habit tracking as a team with the "My First Habit Tracker Parent Companion Guide" is honestly where the true magic happens!
When you're having doubts about introducing a new habit or using our habit trackers, keep these mantras in mind:
Practice makes progress.
Mistakes are an opportunity to grow.
Tomorrow is a new day to try again.
I am putting in the work to turn good intro great.