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Archive for June, 2010

I was recently asked by the mother of a 3 year old why her child asks questions that he already knows the answer to. I wanted to share my response, especially since this is a very common question among the families we work with.

A few reasons your child may be asking the same questions over and over (and over):

  • Because questions with known responses are very predictable and predictability is comforting. They are a sure fire way to engage someone with whom he wants to interact and they provide a safe, familiar way of doing it. He already knows the answer so there are no big surprises- just a pleasant and reliable back and forth interaction. It’s regulating and may serve as kind of a warm up for further, more adventurous conversation.
  • Formulating novel and expanded questions can be very challenging and anxiety provoking for some children. The familiar, more rehearsed ones are going to be easier to pull up from memory. Think about when you feel nervous or under pressure to generate converstaion. We all have some standard questions/responses that we rely on as well, even if it’s just as filler until we come up with something better.
  • He may have difficulty processing novel information (especially when given a hurried answer like we adults do when we’re being asked lots of questions). So, even if he is able to formulate a new question, it might lead to confusion when he gets the answer. If this is something that’s happened a few times, the emotional memory of the anxiety exprienced by the child may be enough to discourage him from taking any risks.
  • Part of the reason may also be that he’s doing what he’s learned to do. Children are asked questions all the time by adults who know the answers to them. This is especially true for kids who might not talk as much or are slower to develop language. Think about how often we ask kids what color something is or what noise an animal makes, even when we clearly know they know the answer. The motivation is somewhat the same: we get the response we’re hoping for, have an enjoyable interaction, and feel good as a result.

Answering a couple of these familiar questions to help regulate a child may be a good way to start an exchange. I would suggest expanding on them in any way you can: offering a familiar response but adding more information, wondering out loud about something associated with the same thing (but not directly asking him another question because that can have the opposite effect and cause dysregulation). Turn it into a game if you can! Providing silly answers can lead to a nice back and forth and then the pressure that comes along with question/response will be removed because the focus is on shared engagement and silliness instead. It might also help to have a replacement “warm up”- some kind of predictable, back and forth game or song that has lots of repetition.

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