Children are like sponges; they are quick to absorb knowledge from their surroundings. Coupled with their inquisitive nature, they can ask us the cutest and most interesting things. Some of their questions may even stump us or catch us off guard.
Som Yew Ya shares 7 useful tips for parents on how to tackle some of these difficult questions.
1. Gender Questions
The awareness of male and female is something that kids catch on at a young age. A baby will know to go to Mommy to nurse while Daddy may have a chin that tickles when he leans close. Boys come to know that their privates are different from girls.
Answer tip: If your child asks a gender related question, it means they are wondering and it makes no sense to avoid it. Do not lie, but give an explanation that is age-appropriate. For young children, there is no need to go into detail. For older children, such as 10 years and above, it may be appropriate to explain further and teach some basic values.
2. Crude Questions
Kids get exposed to many expletives and crude language. In their innocence, they are trying to make sense of what was heard and used.
“What does BS mean?” “What’s the F word?”
Answer tip: Refrain from shutting the kid up or panicking. “Don’t you dare say that again!” would hardly be an appropriate response. Try to explain what the word means in simple terms, or you can ask her what she thinks the word means. Teach why it is not appropriate without reacting emotionally.
3. Relationship Questions
Living in the same family, there are inevitably times when children witness friction between the adults or in unfortunate situations, the split of the family.
“Why do you two yell at each other?” “Why did Daddy move out?”
Answer tip: While the contexts may vary, a general direction would be to provide neutral and sensitive answers. Protect the child from adult issues and your emotions; children are too young to be able to process or take this burden. Answer honestly to help the child understand what is happening so as to help her cope with the situation. However do not provide details beyond what she needs to know or give false promises. Avoid giving a response that is emotionally charged or that causes the child to have to take sides. Reassure and be available.
4. Rude to the Parents Questions
There will come times when children talk back, or even ask questions that provoke you to anger.
“Why are you so annoying?” “Can Mummy just shut up?”
Answer tip: Try not to respond if you are very angry. Refrain from getting into a verbal fight or to punish on the spot. Take a time-out if needed. Subsequently, attend to what is actually the root of the issue. Explain your position as a parent and how some decisions both parent and child make may differ. It is not so much about convincing or winning your child over but to explain your position without getting entangled in negative confrontations.
5. Birth and Death Questions
“Where do we come from?” “Why did the hamster die? What happened to it?”
Answer tip: Avoid giving typical fictional answers which gloss over the questions such as “The stork gave you to us” “The hamster will be having a very long sleep….” Give age-appropriate answers as always. To a toddler, explaining that babies grow in their mothers’ tummies would suffice while to a 12 year old it may be helpful to broach the subject on the birds and the bees.
Death questions may be answered with some explanation on life and sickness. Questions may be a way for the child to cope with the event in a bid to understand it. Don’t brush aside the questions but try to empathise on the feeling your child is trying to convey.
6. Comparison Question
“Why does Jody get to play with the iPad?” “Do you love Jayden more than me?”
Answer tip: Comparison questions usually come with a pre-conceived thought. The child may have the impression of being unfairly treated or unloved at the back of her head. In these situations, it may be best to gather information from her. “Tell me about Maplestory; what makes you want to play it?” “What makes you think I love Jayden more?” It is important to be sensitive and to see things from the child’s perspective. This provides a better understanding of her feelings and platform to explain your position. Listening to her side of the story will make the child feel heard.
7. Too-Deep-Time-Consuming Questions
“Why is the sky blue?” “What is the Milky Way?”
Answer tip: It is ok not to have answers all the time. Parents also have to find answers. No matter how overly complex the question is or how clueless you are, refrain from brushing over it. “Don’t ask funny question and just finish your lunch” would be better replaced with “That’s an interesting question. Mummy does not know, shall we find out together?”
If the situation does not permit sufficient time for discussion, it is fine to reschedule it to later. Be specific. “Mummy is fixing the curtain right now, can we discuss about this after lunch?”
It takes a fine balance of honesty and age-appropriateness to present healthy responses to children. By being available and approachable to our children, we will have opportunities to offer input into their lives that are accurate as well as teach values and principles. Keep the questions coming!
By Som Yew Ya
This article was first published in The New Age Parents e-magazine