Why Do Kids Ask Questions They Know The Answers To

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Why Children Ask Questions They Already Know the Answers To

Your four year old may ask  “Am I in the tub?” while he’s  sitting in the tub. Or “Is it lunch time?” when he’s sitting at the table after you called him for lunch. Some children do this a lot, while other children do it very little or never. And it really comes down to two reasons: control and security.

Control

Children usually ask questions when they need to learn the answer. And typically, we adults have control over that conversation:

“What is that big fish?”

“Well, son, it’s a whale, which lives in the ocean and has in a thick layer of fat called blubber.”

Another example, mentioned earlier, would be, “Am I in the bathtub?” when the child is in fact in the tub. With this question, the child either gets to do all the talking or startles you into speechlessness or frustration. This attention-seeking technique lets them feel in control because they know what you’re going to say. My oldest son, who is four, often does this:

“Mama, is this called a bicycle?”

“Yes.”

“Bicycles have two wheels and pedals and when you turn the pedals,” etc.

It’s an opening for him to demonstrate his knowledge about something or to talk about a topic that he has on his mind. This slight power rush is generally harmless. You may notice a spike in these questions after a recent transition or when a child is anticipating a big event or change like a trip, a new sibling or a move.

My own son asks a lot of these questions. For example, when my Dad recently went to the Congo to volunteer, my son started asking my husband questions with obvious answers like “Are you staying home today?” It was noon and my husband was in sweats and obviously not planning on leaving the house. So my theory is that children do this to regain a sense of control when they’re feeling off kilter.

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Security

There are two aspects to this reason, depending on the type of question. Either the child is trying to gauge their intellect, their smarts, against yours or they want to transfer responsibility for a decision to you.

For example, your dino-obsessed child may hold up a toy dinosaur and say “Mama, is this an Ankylosaurus?” Whenever my son does this, I usually say yes, because I’m pretty sure he knows the answer to his question. This type of question means the child is either insecure in their knowledge and looking for confirmation from you, or they’re secure in their knowledge and are testing to see if you know the answer.

The other aspect of security applies to questions like “Can I put this in the garbage?” when they have the same refuse in their hand that they’ve put in the garbage can many times. This type of question suggests that the child is insecure in their decision-making skills, and they want you to make the decision for them.

I usually return the responsibility to the child: “What do you think?” If you can, use a declarative statement:

“Should I put on these shoes?”

“You don’t have shoes on!”

This response gives them the information they need but doesn’t take responsibility for decisions they need to make. Try to avoid making this a habit, because some kids get a surge of feel-good hormones known as peptides when we validate their decisions. Little kids can quickly focus on that good feeling, always looking for confirmation and that hit of peptides.

At an unhealthy level, that focus can create insecurity, because the child can actually become addicted to these peptides. Peptides make us feel good, so innocent curiosity can lead to a stubborn, hard-to-break habit. I try to encourage the child’s curiosity while asking them to answer their own question. The child then develops critical thinking skills and breaks that feel-good cycle.

Sound doable? If you have any questions- by all means, ask away. I know when I start talking about inciting your children to think critically it can feel really overwhelming- so if that gives you a little bit of panic down in your gut- I got you. Go grab my scripts for managing crazy making behaviour– they’re like a springboard into doing things “my way”, and they’re 100% free, so give ’em a shot and report back.

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10 thoughts on “Why Do Kids Ask Questions They Know The Answers To”

  1. Hello, I’m wondering at what age does this often occur, developmentally? I have step children that have been repeating this behavior of asking these very odd questions (the answers are obvious, or they know the answers) since I met them at age 5, and this was 5 years ago.

    1. Allana Robinson

      It’s not tied to a specific developmental stage. It’s simply a mechanism our brains use to control the unknown.

  2. My 10 year old niece that I adopted does this. I’m big on thinking critically I’ve been teaching my kids the importance of this since day one. I have 3 other kids ages 7 to 11. None of my other kids do this. Only my niece its really starting to drive me nuts. I’ve been trying the things you mentioned above before I found this site it hasn’t helped. Last night she asked if the blue bath towels were bath towels (vs beach towels that are red or brown) I said what do you think… I don’t know (her go to answer for everything) I said Bella is that a bath towel or a beach towel…I don’t know it aggravated me so I finally called her out on her questions of course she just said she still doesn’t know and starts to cry. Then this morning just now(which finally prompted my search) she asks if i get married will I still be your family?… Bella will you still be my family when you get married? She says I don’t know, again frustrated I say you need to start thinking about things before you ask them, I myself know you are smart and know the answers I believe you are looking for attention but you could just talk to me about something real. Other people might start assuming you aren’t as smart as we know you are. So now your going to tell me the answer to your question, she starts crying, I said ok who is my family before i got married 2 min go by or more as shes pouting and crying finally says Gma by the time 5 more min had passed she had only named 3 of our family members. So bella will we still be family when you marry…. finally after 20 min we get the answer. Yes we will. Honestly the crying and pouting and constantness of this issue I sent her to her room to cry. I can’t stand it anymore. We go to therapy Monday I will be talking to her about this… sorry for the long post maybe just needed to vent. I am looking forward to downloading your kit.

  3. Belinda Carrasco-Martin

    Dear Nik,

    Reading your post was like reading what is happening in our family at the moment. My foster daughter (she is almost 11) and her brother (he is 8) are exactly what you described in your post. They can ask the most obvious questions: “What are we having for breakfast?” when they have been eating their porridge/toast/cereal for a few minutes. Other ‘pears of wisdom’ of late are: “What is that in the sky?” referring to the moon or “Why is the ground wet?” after it rained for two days. If I encourage them to think of an answer, I will get the ‘to-go-answer’ “I don’t know” if I am lucky. Silence and freezing on the spot, with their heads bend downwards looking at the floor is what I get on a normal day. After much encouragement, they sometimes answer or – on occasions – they will just walk off. Thinking for themselves was never encouraged before they entered the care system. Also, I have noticed that they find it extremely difficult to answer ‘why questions’. They usually answer with what they believe comes after: “Why did you throw a shoe at your brother?” “So you will tell me off.” Or, “Why did you break wind in front of our guests instead of going to the bathroom?” “So you can open the window.” They cannot see cause-effect and work backwards and they are not aware of consequences or reasons why things happen. “Why did you screw all your drawings?” “Because I wanted to.”

  4. Chhalma Sultana Chhaya

    My Six years daughter is like a drama queen. ( I want to mention that my older son who is seven and a half years old, has mild ASD. She is my youngest child. As my older child has ASD I always have a soft corner towards him. He is very gentle and polite.) As she is more intelligent than her brother she annoys her which makes her happy but my son becomes scared and irritated. I try not to involve immediately but after some time I become angry at her. I am giving some of her behaviours which are very annoying to me. 1. After Friday school she will ask me ” Mummy tomorrow I am not going to school right ?” I will say, Yes. then At bedtime, she will ask me “is it tomorrow Friday?” Which I think is an unnecessary question and makes me again angry.  Another example, she is six. She knows. If her brother says about someone 8 or 9 years old, then she will ask her brother, is he younger than me or older than me? She knows she is younger. she just wants to hear she is younger. She will ask for help with very silly things. But my son doesn’t ask for him unless it is necessary. Which is another reason I am a bit annoyed with her.  I feel I am always a bit rude to her and maybe I don’t love her as my son. She also thinks I love my son more and ask do I love her or not. Please advise me. Is she acting normal and am I a too-bad mother? I really want to make her happy. And how to handle the situation. 
    Kind Regards 
    Chhalma

    1. She’s acting normal. She’s only 6, and she’s doing exactly what I describe in this article- asking questions she knows the answer to to have a predictable interaction with you. It sounds like she would benefit from some of the same support you give your older child and increase the predictability and consistency of your interactions with her.

  5. My daughter is 4 and today she repeatedly asked what our construction foreman’s name was. She asked maybe 5 times in a row. I answered her every time with some “what do you think his name is”. She did the same thing with her stuffed Ty animal.

    How can I get my daughter to stop making plans with other kids and their parents before asking me whether we could do anything. I’m so frustrated and sad about this
    Is something wrong with her

    1. No of course there’s nothing wrong with her. She’s just taking longer to process your verbal input, which is very typical for 4 year olds. Remember- she only learned to talk AT ALL 2 years ago! The expectations you appear to have are more appropriate to a 6/7 year old than a 4 year old. After you answer her once you can set a boundary and move on.

      4 year olds are just starting to understand that they have power, but they also don’t totally grasp that you and her aren’t telepathically connected. She still sees her perspective as the only perspective that matters- not because she’s an asshole, but because 4 year olds are egocentric. They genuinely don’t know that anyone other than themselves matter at all. Keep setting the boundaries and practice with her how to ask before she makes plans. Honestly, this sounds like it’s on the adults more than her. What adult takes a 4 year old’s plans at face value without checking with their parents first? It sounds like you need to set some boundaries with her peers’ parents too.

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About Allana

Hi, I’m Allana. I teach parents of toddlers and preschoolers why their children are misbehaving and what to do about it without yelling, shaming, or using time-outs. When not teaching parents about behaviour you can generally find me chasing around my two boys, reading cheesy romance novels, or hanging out with my own parents.

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