Three Year Olds Are Smart – Why? Ross | June 17th, 2008

Why do birds fly? Why do I have to eat carrots? Why is the sky blue? Why do you drive a car? Why is that person a different color than I am? Why do I have to wear shoes? Why do I have to go to bed?

If you are the parent of a toddler or have a toddler in your life around the age of three, you probably hear “Why?”questions constantly. Kids ask a lot of questions. I have three kids and the third is 2 1/2 years old – just approaching this stage. I am reminded that toddlers are smart. Very smart. Why?

They are smart not because they ask “why” questions. After all, many people ask “why” questions. Toddlers are smart because when they ask “why” questions – they are trying to communicate – and have not yet developed sufficient skills to communicate without asking “why” questions. An answer to a “why” question from a toddler is met with a barrage of more “why” questions. It never stops. They want us to know that the conversations are interesting to them – they want to be heard and they want to listen. They often don’t really care that you answer the question – but they do care that you listen and they really care when you engage in a discussion with them.

For example, a question: “why is the sky blue” can be answered in different ways. One could say that it’s blue because that’s the way the sky looks during the day. Or, one could take an opportunity and talk about the sky being blue on sunny days, gray on overcast days, and gray/black at night when the sun is sleeping. And sometimes, it’s orange or pink.

This is an important lesson for all of us and one we should not forget, particularly when talking to other people, and for those of us running businesses – when talking with our customers (and our employees). We should never forget to ask why. If a customer (or employee) is unhappy and complains, asking a few “why” questions could uncover deeper problems than merely what appears to be the source for that unhappiness. When we answer questions, we should take the opportunity to explain, to probe further, and where possible, educate (if appropriate).

Our customers, employees and people around us want to know that we care and that we hear them.

We can learn a lot from toddlers.

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