Why? 9 Common Questions Kids Ask and How to Answer

Children love to ask why -- but you may not always have the answers. We consulted the experts to get smart responses for some common stumpers.
boy questioning

1- Why Aren't There Any More Dinosaurs?

Tell your kid About 65 million years ago an enormous asteroid collided with the earth and changed everything on the planet. The dinosaurs couldn't adapt and eventually died out, making way for new animals, ones that were better suited to this other climate.

What you should know "Dinosaurs are vivid proof that the world was once very different, which gets a child's imagination running wild," notes Matthew T. Carrano, Ph.D., curator of Dinosauria at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. "Dinosaurs can often hook kids into broader scientific concepts," he says, so take this opportunity to talk about, say, the environment or evolution. For example, explain that dinosaurs' fossils show that they were the ancestors of today's chickens, pigeons -- even ostriches.

2- Why Are There So Many Languages in The World?

Tell your kid Thousands of years ago, people in different communities all over the globe invented their own words to describe their lives, and that's why today people from the same area tend to speak the same language and other people may not. Languages also evolve over time: Our own has changed so much that if you heard someone speaking English as it was spoken 500 years ago, you'd have trouble understanding what he was saying.

What you should know Hearing someone speaking a foreign language can strike young children as odd -- even unsettling. "But the earlier we help kids understand what they can learn from other cultures, the more likely they'll seek out new kinds of people," notes Jillian Cavanaugh, Ph.D., associate professor of anthropology and archaeology at Brooklyn College, in New York. Remind your kid that people from other cultures might think the way we talk is unusual, too, and point out that some words she uses often come from other languages, like ballet (French) or pasta (Italian).

3- Why Don't We Want Others to See Our Private Parts?

Tell your kid Because we use them for things we don't do in public, like going to the bathroom -- that's why we call them private parts. It's also why we cover them with a swimsuit at the pool or close the door when we use the potty. We don't show our private parts to anyone except Mommy and Daddy or a trusted adult, like a doctor in her office. If someone tries to touch them or makes you uncomfortable, please tell me.

What you should know "This is a great chance to model a calm, normalized attitude about the body," assures family therapist Hal Runkel, author of ScreamFree Parenting, so remain matter-of-fact. Young kids lack inhibition, he explains, so take this opportunity to set some safe boundaries about what body parts are off-limits to outsiders.

4- Why Is That Man Homeless?

Tell your kid I'm glad you noticed him. There are lots of reasons people become homeless. He may have lost his job or become too sick to take care of himself or his home. In any case, we should treat him with respect. We should also offer help for the homeless when we can, by doing things like donating to a shelter or collecting winter coats.

What you should know "Children have a limited frame of reference and believe everyone lives just like they do," says Brenda Nixon, author of The Birth to Five Book. They need honesty but also reassurance: They may worry that they'll also become homeless. "Kids often show amazing compassion," Nixon adds, so brainstorm together about how your family can lend a hand.

5- Why Do People Get Sick?

Tell your kid Usually, it's because of germs. These tiny critters can find their way into our body through the air we breathe and things we eat, or when we touch our mouth or eyes without washing our hands. Most of the time, germs don't affect us, but sometimes our body can't fight them off -- and that's when we get sick. Occasionally, people also become ill because their body isn't working properly, but you can't catch those kinds of sicknesses. Fortunately, in most cases, resting and taking medicine can help your body heal.

What you should know It's important to draw a distinction between common conditions like the flu and more frightening ones like cancer. "Children want to know that they're going to get better," says Parents advisor Darshak Sanghavi, M.D., author of A Map of the Child: A Pediatrician's Tour of the Body. "Explain that most serious diseases usually don't happen until old age. The illnesses kids catch typically can be easily treated." While you're at it, promote healthy habits such as washing hands frequently to ward off germs.

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