When There Is No Answer To “Why?”

Four years ago today, my cousin suddenly died while she was at work.  She was in her early 30’s with an adorable family which included two preschoolers.  We were shocked by the news.  Every year on March 15, we think of her immediate family and wonder why.  There was no answer to “why?” in 2010 and there is no answer today.  Sudden death, accidents, job loss – we all experience moments that we didn’t see coming but that shift our lives forever.  How do we explain these sudden and unexplainable jolts to our children?

When children ask questions, adults are used to having answers.  We are uncomfortable when we don’t.  It seems to be a natural instinct to either cut the conversation short or make up a reason.   Too often, adults miss the real lesson.  The real lesson is about what we do in those moments when we have no explanation and no control over events.   Life is sometimes unpredictable and random with no logical explanation.  We can shift and survive.  We teach our children the practical lessons – don’t touch the hot stove, look both ways when crossing the street, work hard to achieve.  Just as practical is the lesson that the point isn’t necessarily why but what you do with it.

Children look for answers.  Adults seek to give them.  In the face of the sudden and seemingly unexplainable, tell your children these truths:

  • I do not know.  You can be a role model for not knowing and accepting that.  We spend time trying to understand instead of focusing our energy on the task at hand – changing, shifting, accepting.  When you are a role model of not knowing, your children will more readily accept the situations that baffle them as they get older.   They will know that it is okay to simply not know.
  • Life is full of surprises – sometimes fun and sometimes not.  When great things happen and seem random, we don’t question why.  We are grateful.  We post statuses on social media about being lucky.  “Luck” is another word for “glad it happened but I don’t know why.”  Perhaps we could more easily accept the jarring randomness if we understood that the good was sometimes unforeseen, too.  Understanding that surprise comes in two forms – joyous and jolting – can help our children to see that events beyond our control happen all the time and our job is to merely determine our reactions.
  • Surprising situations are about what we do next.  We can be sad, shocked and overwhelmed.  We all will be at some point.  Life is about what we do next.   Explain to your children that they can ask for help.  There are people who love them who can help or find help for them.  Families can work as a team to get through tough times.  They are not alone and we will not dismiss their fears, sadness and uncertainty.  We will work through it together.

When my cousin died, her husband reached out for the guidance and the help that he and his children needed.  They worked to create a new normal.  We are constantly creating new normals in our lives.  A baby is born.  We are joyous.  Our family changes and we have a new normal.  Someone dies, a job is lost, a trauma occurs and we need to create a new way of being.  Grasp the opportunities to teach children that the answer to the question “Why?” is really another question – “What do we do now?”

For more information, click on these titles:  "Talking to Young Children About Death" and "Teaching Children to Cope with Change"


Read this blog for more articles.  Ask your parenting & education questions and learn about early childhood workshops for parents & educators on my website - Helping Kids Achieve
Copyright 2014 © Cindy Terebush
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  1. Thanks for a great post. Unfortunately we all end up having these conversations with our kids. Now I have three good ideas of what to say.

    1. You're welcome! You can share the link to this article on social media and with your friends.

  2. This was an excellent article. thanks for sharing it.


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