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slides: Mum’s the Word: Answering Your Child’s Tough Questions

Friday, July 03, 2015


Children are famous for being curious and asking questions we don’t want to answer.

For instance, my four-year-old, Lia, seems to have created a never-ending list of “what if” questions.  She asks these questions and to emphasize the importance of them, she tacks on a second “what if” at the end of her question.

“What if the plane spins up around and down? What if?”

“What if you gave me a little sister, and it was bigger than me? What if?”

Of course, these aren’t really the difficult questions that many parents fear their kids will ask.  

At a certain point, children will ask questions about things they experience or notice. These are sometimes things that parents may have not wanted their children to experience or notice.

Single parents (or parents who have recently gone through a separation with their partners) will eventually have to answer the difficult question of what happened to the other parent.

Parents with multiracial families often need to answer questions about race, skin color, or culture. “Why is your skin black and mine is…not black?”

And every parent, regardless of background, will eventually answer those typically rough questions about sex or death. 

Since this is probably one of the toughest part of parenting, it helps to be aware of some of the tips that might help you answer your child's difficult questions.

See Slideshow Below


Related Slideshow: Mum’s the Word: Answering Your Child’s Tough Questions

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1. Answer honestly.

Sometimes, we think that we need to shelter our kids from everything. So in regards to sex, some parents used to tell their kids they were delivered to the house by a well-intentioned stork.  While that might be the easiest and most fun answer, Jessica Dunn and Judith A. Myers-Walls, Ph.D wrote an article about answering honestly instead. In the article, they demonstrate that it’s possible to be honest about sexual questions without being explicit or providing too many details. The article poses the common scenario of a child asking, “Where do babies come from?”  The authors respond, “In those cases, you could say, ‘there is a special place inside a mother where a baby grows.’” Of course, this isn’t a suitable answer for a child who is ten or twelve. However, the point of the article is that parents should give honest, age-appropriate answers for their child’s questions.

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2. Ask them what they think.

After you answer whatever question your child asked you to the best of your ability, step back and ask them how he or she feels. This is a good way to further talk about your family’s particular situation or learn about new questions that your child may have. Turning the conversation back to your child reminds you to stay focused on how your child is being affected by the world around them.

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3.Comfort them.

I remember lying in my bed mourning my fate when I first learned about puberty. Discovering that my mom’s use of Kotex pads was not because she struggled with incontinence (like I had thought previously) disturbed me to the core of being. So if the conversation ends up upsetting or confusing your child, be sure to take extra time to comfort them or make them smile again.

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4. Use other resources.

Recently, Lia became very interested in the difference between her and my skin tones. Being biracial, Lia has a lot lighter skin tone than me. She has also become obsessed with Rapunzel and sometimes gets sad because she doesn’t look like her. So to help her, I make sure to always speak positively of all skin tones. I try not to overemphasize the differences but I still try to address them since differences do not escape children’s notice. I explain the basic science of why some people’s skins are lighter than others, and Lia and I also watched this YouTube video of Lupita Nyong’o on Sesame Street.  For my family, watching the video was very helpful. So find some books or media that helps you and your child understand things that might be difficult to comprehend. 


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