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For most of us, this why game from young children eventually hits a point where we will become exasperated from the never-ending questions that can seem to rain down. After a long day, many people might lack the energy to seriously engage in this playful but very useful component of child development. The question might not be an easy why, but why not engage and develop cognitive skills as early as possible to foster a lifelong ability to be curious about the world?
My mother decided to humor me when I was growing up. I would ask why, she would give an answer. Repeat. This would continue until my curiosity was satisfied, my mother ran out of answers or an encyclopedia was near by to thumb through until the answer had been found (yes this predates Wikipedia and Google being useful). At the time, my mother didn't realize she was helping to foster important developmental skills. Children grow rapidly both physically and psychologically as well. There are windows of time when a person is young which is prime opportunity to create and maintain new neural pathways. The brain at this point is very malleable and able to pick up new tasks, ideas and concepts with great speed.
Depending on what view and philosophy that you stand with as to children's psychology your belief on development might be change compared to what is spoken about in this article.
Jean Piaget believed that children learn through their environment in different stages through sensory and motor skills. He broke this into four stages; sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational & formal operational. Piaget stops with human development after they have reached the age of adult. This final stage ranges from age 12 to adulthood. With these stages, the child learns about the environment through interaction and eventually turns these interactions into understanding which is stored long term and becomes behavior, think of smiling as a good example.
Erik Erikson developed the idea that there are eight stages to human development for which we fall into. This theory stretched over the lifespan of a human or cradle to grave so to speak. With Erikson's theory, conflicts and social interactions throughout life were more likely to shape and develop a person. Building off of the psycho-social dynamics of Freud with a reduced view of sexuality as a driving factor.
The 'why stage' for me was around the age of seven, both theories listed above would say this is the age in which a child is able to think more logically and manipulate information with greater ease. Abstract and hypothetical pieces are still out of touch for a child but the ability to question basic tangible pieces is easy. Why is the sky blue, why do dogs lick water, why is the stove hot. More or less, these are all questions in which a child is able to physically interact with something whether it be through touch, sight, smell, taste or listening. It is the start of piecing and learning about the world around them in forms that will lead to becoming the base of knowledge for motor skills, language, emotional responses and problem solving.
By allowing me to ask the question 'why' it created a social bond of trust between a parent and child, open communication and reduced fear about asking questions and engaging in topics. It stimulated curiosity and language skills, her responses were words that would become part of my vocabulary and vernacular. The more descriptive and complicated the word, the more interesting it became. Finally, it forced me to problem-solve on my own when there wasn't an answer. My mom would take the time to help me look it up until a satisfactory response was given. This built problem-solving skills and perseverance. By having my answer delayed and needing to seek it on my own it built new skill sets which would be beneficial for academic settings.
So the next time you hear a young child ask you 'why,' humor yourself and them too, by answering. Who knows what you might learn along the way too!
Instagram & Twitter: @altsy01