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If you have a preschooler, you are well-versed in the “why” stage. Curious about everything, they are constantly asking for explanations. It’s cute (and at times exasperating), but what happens when kids, especially older kids, start asking questions that you don’t want to (or can’t) answer? Do you answer? Freeze? Lie? Avoid? Your response—or lack of a response—makes a difference and will impact how they choose to communicate with you later in life.
Kids are more aware and intuitive than we realize. They are actually like little scientists soaking up all they see and hear, cataloging it away for later use. Their early experiences shape their view of the world, how they form relationships and even how they engage in learning. So how and what we do really matters.
"How do babies get inside a mommy’s tummy?"
Setting the tone for answering difficult questions now will not only help form a solid foundation for your kiddo, it will do wonders for your relationship with them later in life. Children learn and internalize how you approach tough subjects. If you are open, honest and willing to engage they will learn that it is good to be curious, they are not a burden and that you are a trusted source. How you communicate with them influences whether they will continue to talk with you or shut down. Granted, at times you may want them to stop talking… I get that it can be exhausting. But, those open lines of communication are extremely important in the teenage years when the stakes are higher.
Here are some things to consider when reacting to tough questions.
Having three kids, 15 nieces and nephews, plus working with little ones my entire career, I’ve had lots of experience with “why.” I’ve learned that a little patience really does go a long way. Showing patience and engaging in the conversation tells a child they’re important. It demonstrates your commitment to their learning and an appreciation for their curiosity. It also shows your willingness to talk to them about anything. So take a deep breath and, as they say, “lean in” to the conversation. Sometimes the questions are really just their way of trying to get closer to you. But, if you are at your wits end, you can always ask them what they think. That, too, let’s them know you value their thoughts.
Be OK with the discomfort
Kids ask some really hard questions. And the places they ask them can be really awkward. Target and the grocery store were some of my kids’ favorite places to belt out a hard-to-answer question. And volume control seemed to be an issue! (Why were they always so loud when they did it?) But EVERY parent who has brought a child out in public has been in this situation. So don’t worry about the real or perceived judgement you might feel. Just have grace for your child, yourself and other parents.
After all, curiosity is spontaneous and at times inconvenient. But often it is in response to something that triggers what’s going on in the home, in the news or what is immediately being seen. Usually kids are just trying to make sense of their world and when they see something that is unfamiliar they want to learn more or they want to make sure they’re safe. Lying to them or avoiding the question altogether doesn’t help. As you know, kids can be incessant when they want to know something. So try to keep cool, think on your feet and remember it’s okay to take a beat and think about your answer.
Be honest; age-appropriate, but honest
For most of us our first instinct is to protect our children. We want them to grow up feeling that the world is a safe place. We don’t want bad things to happen to them. We don’t want them to know the full truth about certain things. And that’s good—to a point.
There is a line we all draw when it comes to providing information. The trick is finding the delicate balance of how much is too much. If we overshare we run the risk of making our children grow up too fast. If we under-share we shelter them too much—hindering both the ability to have realistic expectations and develop resiliency. The dilemma is real.
My kids grew up in the era of 9/11, terrorist attacks, Sandy Hook, a recession and other horrific events. We kept their exposure to the news to a minimum, but the information was everywhere we turned and the questions felt nonstop. Those issues still prevail. And now we are quarantined facing a pandemic that is literally affecting everyone in the world. It’s natural for kids to notice, to question.
I believe it’s okay to acknowledge and talk about what is happening, if asked. Take your cues from your kids. Share bits of information, but tailor it to your child’s ability to understand the world. Keep in mind you won’t tell your three year-old the same thing you would tell your 10 year-old. If your child keeps asking questions it’s a pretty good indicator they either need a little more information or more reassurance that things will be ok. And if you don’t have an answer it’s ok to say “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out.”
Whatever you decide, just hang in there. I know it can be trying. Sometimes I wondered if my kids were testing me. A few of our award-winning family questions and answers include:
At times, maybe the questions were irrelevant. Maybe it was just their way of seeking to find out if they could really trust that I would always be available to them. All I know is that they’re mostly grown now, still ask interesting questions and the dialogue continues. For that I am grateful!
What are some of the tough questions you've had to answer? If you have some tough questions you want help answering, send me a message and I’ll do my best to help.
Be kind to yourselves and others.
Until next time,