The Unanswerable Questions of a Preschooler

Everyone knows about, or has experienced the phenomena that is the barrage of “Why?” questions a child would ask. I have gone through it myself. It was a phase I quite enjoyed. Lewis is nearly four so I have been honing my technique for some time. Why does the sun shine? (To keep us warm). Why are carrots red? (So they look tasty to eat).

Some questions were admittedly more taxing than others. Why have you got a baby in your belly? (So you can have someone to play with). Why did the flowers die? (They couldn’t get any water from the ground after we picked them). Why is the carpet soft? (So you don’t hurt yourself when you fall).

Throughout them all I strived to tell Lewis the truth, or at least a version of it. This is my chance to educate Lewis. These early years where I have been his main care giver have been my opportunity to shape the way his mind works. I want him to be curious and learn about the world. I want him to know the reasons behind the rules I set and not give the dreaded “because I said so”, as a standard response.

However lately my job has become more difficult. “Why” is becoming replaced by “How”. The difficulty arises because I’m don’t think I’m smart enough to answer his questions. At least not in the way a three year old can relate to.
Here is an example of a recent conversation we had:

Lewis: “Look Mummy. There is a volcano!”

Me: “It’s not a volcano, it’s just a mountain.”

Lewis: “But it has a round bit at the top. I think there must be lava going to come out the top of that volcano.”
Where on earth did he learn about volcano’s? That pre-school has a lot to answer for!

Me: “Maybe it used to be a volcano, but there is no lava in it now, so it is just a mountain.”

Lewis: “How does the lava come out the top of a volcano?”

Emmm…. G.C.S.E. geography test here… the earth is made of plates. The plates move. The lava comes up through the cracks.

Me: “It gets pushed up from the ground.”

Lewis: “How does the ground push it up?.”

Emmm… is it the pressure from the plates, or some kind of anti gravity, Newton’s, centri-frugal force field type thingy????

Me: “It’s like magic!”

What a rubbish answer! I mean really! I know this is only a simple example but it is happening more and more often.

Of course I do tell him little fibs about flying reindeer and Easter Bunnies that live in New Zealand, ( I have no idea where the Easter Bunny is supposed to live!), but that’s different. That, to me, is a child’s right of passage into adulthood. To believe in magic and folklore and be whisked away to a reality which doesn’t exist. Goodness knows, true reality will strike soon enough! Though I abused it. Volcano’s aren’t magical in that sense. Of course there is a logical explanation as to why and how they work. I just can’t remember exactly what it is, and even if I did how would I explain it to a three year old!

I just had this idea in my head that I would always strive to be honest  and truthful, and answer his questions the best I could, in a way he could understand. When he has to do GCSE geography he probably won’t give two toots how the lava comes out of a volcano, so if I can  teach him the basics while he is interested, that will hopefully make things easier.

Maybe my ideal is wrong. After all, if he isn’t old enough to understand a concept, why should I try to explain it. It would likely lead to a whole barrage of other questions which I would find unanswerable.

In the meantime, I am afraid I have had to throw in the towel. I frequently respond with “I don’t know sweetheart”, and as an honest answer, that simple fact in itself may be at the root of my feelings of discomfort.

My little boy is growing up. He wants to know things about how the world works, and I don’t know the answer. Perhaps this is a sign that he is indeed ready to start school in September (another fact which doesn’t sit easily with me). There is a benefit to school though. When the questions are too difficult for me I can pass the buck. “Ask your teacher sweetheart”, may become my phrase of choice. Failing that, I may have to go back to school myself!

Questions poem

How do you handle questions that you can’t answer? Tips gratefully received!





  • […] Mydaysni ~ with Mel.  Get asked a simple question… then throw in the towel… […]

  • Google! Seriously, I’d be lost without it 🙂 You can always find a child friendly explanation somewhere! My boys now know to ask me to ask Google 🙂 #ShareWithMe

  • sounds just like a conversation with my 5 year old… he fascinates me with his inquisitiveness!
    Popped over for #sharewithme, would love if you came and said hi back @ xx

  • Google has become my bible of late. Seriously! I cannot answer their questions and now they see through my flawed attempts. Google is an absolute god-send. Trust me 🙂

  • ~Merlinda~ (@pixiedusk) says:

    My preschooler started asking me this. There are really hard ones that I dont want to make a mistake answering wrongly. But the bad thing is why cuz they never end =P Thanks for sharing your experience on this! Its really taxing for me lately and I got some points from your post =) #sharewithme

  • What a brilliant post – it rings true with me in every sense! We also try so hard to give an honest but simple answer but when it gets to ‘how?’ it really does get harder doesn’t it?! I also find myself wondering where our bear has learnt about this and that (pre-school, childminder, friends,
    CBeebies!) As for the tips, I’m not sure I’ve got any to be honest…

  • Jenny says:

    Hahah I love this. You have way better answers than I ever do. I wasn’t very into science so I think your answer is AMAZING!!! Go you. lol I love the why but haven’t reached the how yet thankfully. Thank you so much for linking up to Share With Me Week 11. I love your posts. So funny and so true!!! I can relate. hahaha #sharewithme

  • Mumaleary says:

    As a former geography teacher I think you went for a perfectly acceptable answer! How magic is it that the solid ground beneath our feet is moving all the time- when he asks why you said magic in a few years time give him that! Or take him to the science museum!
    We are getting loads of whys but nothing unmanageable yet….

I love to hear your comments:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.