When children ask parents difficult questions – especially out of the blue – parents may stammer and stutter, stumble and sweat, or retreat and runaway. What is considered difficult may vary from one parent to another – some may dread the birds and bees questions; others may cringe at the god questions; and still others, may fumble at death questions.
No matter if your difficult question is one of the above, all of the above, or something different altogether, there is a universal approach to help with any difficult question.
Anticipate the questions from early on. Learn from friends who are a step ahead of you. Be prepared for the questions at any time. Some children ask them much earlier than we expected; others ask much later. Just know that they will come.
When children ask deep-rooted life questions, they often have an answer in their minds. They are merely testing the waters. They heard something. They are thinking of something. When it comes to god and death, it is normal for children to wonder and to explore their own thoughts. Before answering the question, ask your child what he or she thinks about it. You may find that allowing them to express their thoughts is all they need at this particular stage, and your answer doesn’t matter to them.
Know your own values and beliefs. It is important for you to know what you value, what you believe and why. Even more important is to be able to share those ideas with your children without sounding pushy, absolute, or authoritative. Help your children understand and accept upon themselves the values and beliefs you’d like them to have. Think back to your own growing journey and how you came to the values and beliefs you uphold.
Don’t be afraid to say – “That’s a good question. Let me think about how to best answer it.”. By doing this, you are giving yourself an opportunity to think about it, call friends for help, or look up details to convey the message you want to give to your child. It is also a gift to your child when they get to see that you do not know everything and sometimes need to think about things before making a statement. It is okay to tell them that they are asking difficult questions – questions adults even struggle with – and that you need some time to give them a good answer.
When it comes to the birds and the bees, be prepared to provide age appropriate information. Many parents rely on school health education programs to educate their children on intimate health issues. A parent who is able to have that conversation with his or her child will open an avenue of communication that will be advantageous as young children grow up into teen children. Break the cycle of discomfort that may have existed in your family growing up. There are many good – and non-explicit – books to guide you through these conversations.
Maintain open communication. If you learn to be a strong and open communicator, your children will pick up on that skill as well and may be more apt to come to you when they have difficult questions. The most important element of communication is to make sure the other person feels heard. So, before you jump in with what you want your child to know, make sure you spend time listening to what he or she has to say.
Parents before us have survived the difficult questions, and we – too – will handle them when they are asked of us. It is my hope that the ideas presented above will ease any anxiety you may have and help you prepare for the excellent answers you will provide your children.