It happens at the most inopportune times. I’ll be trying to merge onto the highway, or in the middle of a conversation. That’s when I’ll hear that sweet little voice pipe up. “Mommy,” she’ll begin, “why are we driving to town?”

That one’s easy to answer. Because we haven’t shopped for groceries in a week and we’re down to our last sacred baby food pouch and also mama needs a Target break. I can rattle off that very honest explanation and it’s enough to satisfy her–for now. Inevitably though, she’ll find something else to inquire about a mere few minutes later.

In the past week alone, I’ve answered questions that range from “Who is that man painting?” (It was Bob Ross) to “Why do we have daylight savings time?” (I had to think a minute on that one) to “Why do I need to wear shoes in the snow?”

It’s enough to drive even the best mama a little batty, but it’s a necessary part of raising intelligent and independent children. While it might feel like the most nagging thing in the world, helping our kids understand the world around them is actually fueling their self-sufficiency. As we help them grasp unfamiliar concepts, we’re helping them make sense of this big and beautiful thing called life.

One of the best strategies I’ve found for dealing with the incessant questions is to turn them around on my children, probing them to explore the issue farther than simply ratting off “why” because it’s a one-syllable word that’s easy to say.

For instance, my daughter asked me just today “Why can’t I have ice cream for breakfast?” I was tempted to give her that sideways look that says, “You know very well why” and then walk away and finish making her scrambled eggs. Instead, I asked her very calmly, “Honey, why do you think you can’t have ice cream for breakfast?”

She flashed a grin that turned into a deep belly laugh. “Because ice cream is for dessert!” she blurted out.

When I remember to engage her like that, I’ve found that it can open the door to a longer, more informative dialogue than simply giving her an answer to satisfy her for the moment. For instance, I was able to segue that ice cream talk into a mini dissertation on healthy foods versus treats, and why we reserve special sweets like ice cream for certain times of the day and focus on filling our bellies with nutritious fruits, veggies, grains and proteins.

I’m also not afraid to tell her when I don’t know the answer. By now, she can recognize the Google logo immediately because I whip out my phone to search for a response so often. Side note: She can also press “Skip Ad” like a boss, but such is the reality of raising a 21st-century toddler in the time of instantly accessible cartoons, I suppose! Letting her see me search for a reply shows her that even adults don’t have everything figured out, and that research is a great way to learn more about a confusing topic.

When I finally do figure out what to say, I try to explain it in as simple of terms as possible, using the age-appropriate language she can relate to. Sometimes, like the time she asked me how gas makes our car run, that’s a little challenging to do! Over time, though, I’ve found that even the most complex topics can be simplified to a child’s logic if I try hard enough.

While these methods work well for easy-to-answer subjects, it might prove challenging when our children begin asking tougher questions or probe us about topics that are a little more complicated for them to understand. She hasn’t asked me yet where babies come from, or exactly where that pet squirrel went when we buried him in the field beside our house. When that time comes, I’ll be prepared to sit down with her and break down the subject into manageable morsels that she can digest.

As she grows, I hope she never satiates this thirst to learn more. I hope she’s always tinkering with concepts and trying to understand the way things really work. I hope she learns, explores and creates every day. I hope she never accepts “because I said so” as a logical answer from anyone. As her mama, I relish the role of question answerer. I may not have all the answers, but I’ll spend my life trying to equip her with the knowledge she needs. And in the attempt, I’m learning a ton about myself–and life—in the process.

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