My seven year old has, for a while now, been going through the "guess what" stage. He's not quizzing anyone, it is just become part of his speech pattern. For example, he was telling me a fairy tale the other day and it went something like this:
Isaac: So, there was this prince, and, guess what?
Isaac: He had two brothers. Well these brothers all decided to get married, and guess what?
Isaac: One of the brothers married a farmer's daughter, and guess what?
Isaac: The second brother married a pot-maker's daughter, and guess what?
Isaac: The third brother married a frog! And guess what?
It is no exaggeration when I say that this went on for over half an hour. Now, I believe strongly that listening to children is one of the most important things parents can do for that child's self-esteem, so even though my husband kept rolling his eyes at me throughout the whole story, I refused to break it off. But as much as I love my son, and as much as I love fairy tales, the whole, "and guess what?" is not very high up on the list of great story telling techniques.
But my question is, why does almost every child seem to go through this stage? It isn't just stories; every communication is riddled with "guess what's?" or the interchangeable variation, "know what?" I sometimes think that it must come from feeling ignored or brushed off - a means of confirming that the listener is still listening. It turns into a viscous cycle though, because it makes it so much harder to pay attention when the conversation is constantly interrupted. So, then, I end up listening less attentively because of the "guess what's?" I find myself needing to focus over and over again instead of letting my mind wander away and mechanically answering "what?" every time there is a pause.
Though it may sound cruel, one of the funniest things is to break the rhythm. Instead of answering with the expected "what?" I sometimes throw in a "why?" or a "nope," or the ever classic answer to "know what?": "no, but I know his brother, Who." Infantile, but when done playfully it simply elicits a response of surprise and that great look that kids seem to learn from infancy, the one that says, "you are out-of-your-mind-crazy," usually accompanied by the exclamation, "M-O-M!"
But mostly I play along, hoping that my persistent attention will eventually eliminate the need for him to confirm that I am listening. And between the "guess what's" there is a whole lot worth listening to!