Asking questions is a sign of an intelligence. In fact, it is recommended that parents encourage questions, as this gives permission to young curious minds to explore the world and seek understanding. But what if your child has a tendency to ask the same question, or variations of it, over and over and over again? If your child is a pre-schooler, then this behavior is just a normal phase – answer the questions a few more times and move on. If your child is already in grade school, however, this pattern of asking may indicate some sort of anxious feeling or condition. Knowing how to respond is important.
If your child keeps asking the same question over and over, consider the following:
Perhaps Your Child Doesn’t Feel Heard
It’s true for adults, and it’s true for kids as well: if a person feels the need to repeat himself, chances are he or she sensed that the message did not get across. A child can feel that his or her question wasn’t taken seriously, or perhaps the youngster found the answer unsatisfactory in some way. Asking again might be the equivalent of saying, “let me put the question another way,” – except that the child doesn’t bother to rephrase it or elaborate! If you suspect that your answer was somehow lacking, go ahead and give a more complete one now. If there is still a problem, ask your child to expand on his or her question so that you can understand what is really being asked for.
Your Child is Not Really Asking a Question, but Expressing a Feeling
“Why does Dad have to work all the time?!?” At first blush you’d think this question is a mere inquiry regarding why parents need to work. But it’s possible that your child is sad and missing his or her father. In this case, your child needs comfort, not an explanation. If you’re a parent with a child who repeatedly asks specific questions, ask yourself whether it’s possible that there is an emotional need behind the subject being asked. Your child may be confused, lonely or scared, but can’t communicate it directly. He asks a question and gets an answer that doesn’t satisfy him, so he asks again. If you answer the unspoken sentiment, the child will stop asking. For instance, instead of “Grownups have to work many hours in order to make money to support their families” you can say, “You really miss Daddy, don’t you? You wish he could be with us more of the time.” If your emotional coaching “hit the spot” the child will stop asking his question!
Your Child Didn’t Understand Your Answer
Questioning stops when a satisfactory answer is received. Unfortunately, parents sometimes forget that the younger a child is, the more difficulty he or she will have in processing abstract answers. Explaining that rain comes from evaporated water that becomes clouds may be too much for a three year old. You might need to adjust your answers more appropriately to the particular child who is asking. Often, the more simple the answer, the more satisfying it is.
Your Child is Trying to Break Down the Question
Kids have limited attention-spans and therefore may not have registered your whole answer. In addition, some kids have auditory processing deficits that cause them to remember limited amounts of information. For this reason, they may ask the same question again over and over again until they can put together all the information they’re after. If you notice that your child only remembers part of what you’re saying, try to break up your answers into small pieces. For instance, if a child asks “Why does it snow in some countries?” you can start off with a brief reply like, “because in some places it is so cold that the rain freezes into snow crystals.” Then the child can ask a NEW question, like “How cold does it have to be for that to happen?” You can then answer this new question in a few short words. That might lead to the next question, and so on.
Your Child is Expressing Wonderment
Children are in a constant process of discovery. Things that are ordinary for us adults, are profound new things for kids. It’s possible for kids to repeatedly ask a question as an expression of amazement. In other words, the child is confirming a new piece of information over and over again, because he is relishing it! For instance, a young child might say “Why is that tree so tall?” when he doesn’t really want an answer. He might mean “That tree is SO tall!” In which case you can just echo the sentiment. “It is so tall, isn’t it?” These conversations tend to happen with very small children.
Your Child is Expressing Anxiety or Insecurity
Sometimes repetitive questions are a symptom of anxiety or insecurity. For instance, when a child asks, “Is it time to go to school now?” every 10 minutes in the morning, it can be that the youngster is worried about being late. Similarly, if the child asks over and over again, “Are you sure this outfit looks alright?” it can be a sign of insecurity. In OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), it is common for sufferers to constantly ask the same question or versions of the same question over and over, as they seek to reduce their anxiety. For instance, a child might ask, “No one has touched this bowl, right?” followed by, “The bowl wasn’t touched by anyone, was it?” followed by, “No one touched it all, even a little, right?” and so on. In all cases of anxious questioning, the best intervention is to refuse to answer more than once. Whether the issue is minor anxiety, normal insecurity or OCD-type intense anxiety, when parents refuse to answer more than once, they actually help reduce their child’s insecurity. Anxious questioning is uncomfortable for the child as well as for the parent. When the child knows that he or she is only getting one answer per question, he or she eventually feels calmer and experiences less need to ask again and again. Parents are not helping anxious children by continuing to answer repetitive questions – in fact, they can actually worsen the child’s anxiety by doing so. When repetitive questions seem to be arising out of worried, insecure or anxious feelings, a professional assessment can be helpful. A psychologist or psychiatrist can let you know whether the child’s behavior will likely disappear on its own or with minimal at-home intervention, or whether professional intervention should be utilized to help reduce underlying feelings of anxiety or to address an actual anxiety disorder.