(One of my long-term readers kindly pointed out there are no back posts on this subject, so here it is now!)
Yes, asking many questions is a hallmark of being four years of age. It does not mean all questions a four-year-old asks needs to be answered directly though (although nor does it mean that we don’t ever answer a question!) However, four-year-olds often seem to ask about a million questions a day. Many of these questions are just a reflection of the wonderfully imaginative way a child of that age has at looking at the world, and it is really important not to shut their ideas down with a very adult way of looking at things.
I think what helps is to certainly be tuned into your child in a warm and loving way, but in a way in which you are busy and not hanging on their every word. I find this much easier to do myself when I am physically working with my whole body, not just sitting down and using only my hands. If I am shoveling, digging, planting, scrubbing, etc it is much easier for me to hum, sing, give a warm smile but not have this incredibly involved discussion where the child sits down next to me and we play Fifty Questions About Life.
Humming, singing, and being busy but yet tuned into your child is a fine art of balancing in parenting. It is a process and a journey to achieve this. We can use our warmth, our smiles, our love. We can answer with neutral phrases such as “I really wonder that too!” (and actually mean it!) or we can say, “I don’t know, but I know a (song, poem, verse) about that!” We try to answer a four-year-old as pictorially as possible – the time for more pointed answers to questions comes in the grades with short explanations. If you need help with speaking pictorially, please try this back post: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/04/01/talking-in-pictures-to-small-children/
If a child is extremely insistent that we answer a question, we can gently ask the child what they think without commenting too much about what they say. Give them space and time to complete their own ideas and thoughts. Sometimes they really can answer their own questions in their little four-year-old way of looking at the world and the universe!
Also, I mean this in a very kind way, but I often see this questioning and chatter more in families where the four-year-old is the oldest in the family or the only child. A four-year-old oldest or only often learns to communicate verbally with an adult for a feeling of intimacy and closeness more frequently than those who have a house full of sibling playmates to attend to.
If you find your four-year-old seems to be asking just a million and a half questions, here are a few “sideways” tips to assist you:
1. Be busy yourself with your whole body in work — sometimes sitting down with just hands in work becomes an opportunity for a child to just plant themselves next to you and ask question after question.
2. If your child simply must chatter away, have them do something physical whilst they are chattering.
3. Please double check the amount of outside time they are getting. Some children chatter when they have a lot of nervous energy and don’t know what else to do with themselves.
4. How is their play? Here are two back articles about fostering creative play: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/10/29/more-about-fostering-creative-play/ and here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/10/05/fostering-creative-play/
5. And, this one might make folks bristle a bit, but good old-fashioned benign neglect is okay. Your relationship with your spouse or partner is really, really important – a foundation for the home. It is okay for your child to be at the periphery a bit and not so much center-ring in the family stage. I mean that with love, so just meditate and ponder on that. I see so many, many families where the child is really thrust into the position of carrying what should be the adult life between adults and the child becomes the intimate, verbal substitute for an adult relationship and communication for one or both of the parents. Disregard this thought if it does not apply to your family, of course.
And remember, the time WILL come to answer these questions in a more factual way – starting in the grades. This is such a short time period in which to protect your child’s imagination, and their development of a sound and healthy emotional life.
What thoughts do you have about children who incessantly chatter or question?