Children are so inquisitive. They love information. They ask constant questions as their minds are continuously processing everything they see and hear in the world around them. Children come to their parents all the time to clarify the things they don’t really understand. As parents, we want to help our children learn and understand yet sometimes when they ask an ‘awkward question’ it is tempting to gloss over it (and maybe run for the hills and hope when we get back they will have forgotten!).
There are so many issues that parents can find difficult to discuss with their children. Depending on our own experiences and beliefs, how ‘awkward’ a question is for us as individuals can vary hugely. For many parents, those awkward questions may include: “Where do babies come from? What is sex? What is gay? Why does he have two mammies? Why don’t I have a mammy? Why don’t I have a daddy? What is homeless?” By not answering awkward questions and telling children they are ‘too young’ to know such things, we are making taboos of so many subjects that are normal in our society. Children will learn quickly not to ask us anymore, and then they will in time find other sources – perhaps unreliable sources – to answer their questions. A question will not go away until your child is satisfied with the answer they find.
This week in our ’10 Ways to’ parenting tips series, we explore some strategies that as parents we can put in place to support us in answering those awkward questions that our children send our way.
- Don’t try to fob a child off by changing the subject or saying they are too young. If they are old enough to ask, they are old enough to get some information.
- Be honest in an age appropriate way. This does not mean you wait until they are teens to tell them things (when you may be even more embarrassed). Give children little bits of information to match what they can understand as they develop. Plant the seeds and build the tree over time with them.
- At times a question may upset you yet this is no reason to not answer it. You may have to explain to your child that this question makes you a little sad but that you will talk with them about it. A parent absent from your child’s life is often very difficult to talk about and many parents worry that their child will feel the rejection they themselves may have experienced, but remember that children have a different relationship with and perception of an absent person in their life. They will not feel the same as you. Here we explore ways to explain an absent parent.
- Be factual and try not to make the information about any subject into a fairy tale. Educate your child about families and all the diverse families in our society.
- If you make any issue into a taboo when children are young, they will be less inclined to talk openly with you when they are older. Try to have an open relationship with your child from the first days. Once they start talking to you, start talking and sharing with them. Remember that even though it may seem a long time away now, you don’t know what choices your child will make as they grow up and you don’t want them to think that you may be unsupportive of them in the future.
- Just because you explain once, that probably won’t mean that you’re off the hook. Children take pieces from each and every conversation. Some bits they recall and other bits get left behind. They will ask you again so try to be patient and answer them again. Maybe you can add in additional age appropriate detail the next time.
- There are many excellent books out there to support parents in talking with children about almost every topic. Perhaps you can get some books in the library and introduce them during story time. Plant the seeds of knowledge and allow your child to process the information and to know they can come back to you when they need to ask more questions.
- If your child has wrong information or understanding, such as about who their dad is or if they have the same parents as their sibling, then correct them from the first error. With many families we work with, children are growing up with step-parents having previously had a relationship as a baby with their other biological parent who separated from the family and they may have forgotten this. Try to keep the information clear, show them photos if you have them, be open and honest or you will only create more awkward situations in the future which can lead to your child losing trust in you. Always try to build your relationship based on trust.
- At times your child’s other parent might object to you answering these awkward questions. Try to talk with them and help them to understand why it is important to answer your child’s questions honestly. Once you are sharing age appropriate information, then you need not worry.
- Seek support from service providers such as One Family if you would you like support in talking with your child about challenging situations. Once you start to talk openly with your child and believe that you are the right person to help them understand the very complex world we live in, then it will become easier for you.
This article is part of our weekly ’10 Ways to’ series of parenting tips, and is by One Family’s Director of Children and Parenting Services, Geraldine Kelly.
Next you might like to read: 10 Ways to Support Your Child’s Sex Education, 10 Ways to Explain An Absent Parent or 10 Ways to Talk To Your Child About ‘Where Do I Come From’.
Find out more about our parenting skills programmes and parent supports. For support and information on these or any related topics, call askonefamily on lo-call 1890 66 22 12 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.