Big Questions from Little People

I love hearing from parents about the ‘awkward’ conversations they have with their inquisitive children.

“Miss 6 wanted to know what ‘sexy’ means.”

“I overheard my kids calling one another ‘gay’ while they were fighting. When I asked them to stop they wanted to know what ‘gay’ meant!”

“My daughter was reading the Bible and wanted to know how Lot’s daughters got pregnant.”

Most times these conversations aren’t quite as traumatic as we make them out to be for the purposes of telling an entertaining story, but more often than not these questions catch us off-guard. We know that “ask your mother/father/teacher/pastor” is hardly an acceptable response – even if it does seem to be the first one to come to mind – and the next one is usually something like “you’re not meant to ask that question for another couple of years!”

I’m often asked for ‘advice’ to help navigate the more sensitive discussions parents are called upon to conduct. I’m certainly no expert but here are my three top tips that may be helpful for those of you preparing for such conversations (or hiding here online to buy time to respond to that question you were just asked!)! 🙂

1. Ask clarifying questions before launching into your response

2. Don’t overshare.

3. Check their comprehension.

A mum was driving with her kids in the back of the car when one of them piped up and asked “Mum, where do I come from?” The mum took a deep breath and launched into a stilted recount of the process of creating human life until her daughter interrupted and said “no, I mean, what hospital was I born in!?” Apparently they had driven past one and she wondered if that’s the one she ‘came from’!

Ask clarifying questions.

A child once asked his mother what sex was and before replying she said “why do you ask?” The son said, “Because Dad said he would play with me in two secs!”

Clarifying questions are helpful to make sure you’re answering what they ACTUALLY want to know and not giving unnecessary (and potentially unhelpful) information.

Once I was watching television with a friend and her 8 year old daughter. The show made reference to AIDS and Miss 8 turned to us and asked “what’s AIDS?” The mother blanched! She whispered to me, “how am I meant to explain that? … intravenous drug use and risky sexual behaviours …” I turned to Miss 8 and said “it’s a disease in the blood.” At which point she turned back to watching the tv.

Don’t overshare.

You know your children better than anyone and can probably best assess their level of cognition and emotional maturity to know how much information they really need to satisfy their curiosity or give them a degree of peace in relation to what they’re asking. By asking clarifying questions you can find out what it is that they are really concerned about. You can discover what they are mentally calculating and processing and how much information will be helpful for them to come to a satisfactory conclusion … for now. They will no doubt have additional questions as they process the information you give them, as their intellect develops and as they are ready to process more details or more complex ideas.

Before your chat is over (and potentially again at a later time or date), check what they have understood from what you’ve said. “Tell me what I just said in your own words.” or “How would you answer that question if someone else asked it?” “Do you have any other questions?” “Has that helped you understand?” Whatever you can ask that satisfies you they have received your information as correctly and usefully as possible.

Check their comprehension.

Finally … don’t forget to keep sharing the stories with other parents (& me). We can all learn something from your experiences … and they do make the most entertaining stories! 🙂

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