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Eliminating the Big Why Question

Sometimes we ask our child ‘Why did you do it?”. We then tend to be surprised with their answer is “I DON’T KNOW” especially if they say it in an angry voice. After all, we were asking what we thought was a helpful question. We were only trying to help our child to think about what they had done and to learn from their actions. What tends to happen however is that we are left wondering where on earth is our child’s anger and disrespect is actually coming from.

The story about the bear coming to the cave door and the cave family needing to make a quick response to protect themselves can perhaps help us understand our child’s response. Whenever a child (or adult) feels under threat they tend to go into their primitive brain and react in a flight, fight or freeze manner. Now of course the ‘why’ question is actually only a tiny little threat compared to the hungry bear. However, the brain is still engaged in a similar fashion. We know that when we are using our primitive brain we can’t seem to use our reasoning at the same time. So there is the problem. In that moment in time we are not using the part of the brain where we think about our actions. Hence the typical “I don’t know”.

So what can we do instead? At this stage in our course we encourage you to practice stopping asking this type of question. In later sessions we will discuss how to ask different kinds of questions which will be more helpful in teaching them the behaviour we wish them to learn.

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