Answering Awkward Questions from your Child
Tips on how to answer those awkward questions that pop up when you least expect it
We’ve all been there, the room is silent and it seems everyone can hear a little voice “Why does………….” (fill in any one of a long list of awkward questions – or embarrassing ones) and they are all waiting for your answer. Whilst you can’t be prepared for every question, having thought about your answers in advance can give you some sense of control and help overcome the blind panic that many parents feel when faced with ‘those questions’.
Here are a few common ones and our suggestions on how to handle them.
Why does my poo smell?
The best way to answer this is simply and honestly ( and do it without giggling unless you want your child to continue to repeat the word poo at every opportunity. Something along the lines of ‘Your body is getting rid of the waste that it doesn’t need and waste can be smelly.” Most children will find that a sufficient answer and many will have just been asking because they get to use the word poo, which to young children is just a funny word. Remember any question with one of the ‘rude’ words in it may be more about the child getting to use the word than a genuine enquiry to help him or her understand the world.
My book says the universe was made by a Big Bang but at church, they say God made it. Who is ‘lying’?
It is important to have our own personal beliefs as it helps us to make sense of our complex world and can create a comfort to some people. You could try saying something along the lines of ‘As the world is so old it’s hard to know exactly how it was created, and there is no one answer that everyone agrees on. Individuals and groups of people have varying ideas about what or who created the world and these are their personal beliefs. Scientists believe there is evidence of a ‘Big Bang’ and that the planet Earth was formed during this event – whereas the church likes to think ‘God’ created the world and everything that lives here. There are also other theories from other groups and religions too. You are able to believe whichever theory you like and neither are the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer, you may even have a different theory of your own. It is important to remember your friends may have different ideas and opinions to you and that you won’t always agree, but you can have different opinions and still respect each other’s views and be friends.’
Why do grown ups argue? Shouldn’t they know better because you get told off if you do it when you are little.
Sometimes in life people will have disagreements with one another – it is important to remember that these arguments do not mean they don’t like each other or don’t love each other anymore; they just disagree over something (as you may do with a friend or sibling at times). When people get cross they occasionally argue and voices get raised, it’s not nice and it is ok to ask them to stop, as they do to you.
What does the tooth fairy do with the teeth they collect?
Imagination is a great tool and valuable in trying to understand things you can’t see hear or touch. As with all the childhood myths and legends, it’s a wonderful opportunity to help children nurture their imagination and create their own beliefs. You can say something like ‘No one really knows what the ‘tooth fairy’ does with the teeth as you can’t see them, but why don’t you think of all the things you think s/he may use them for? It is also good to say what you like to think or enjoyed believing as a child. Maybe they build homes or little villages?
Again, it’s good to reinforce that with beliefs, there is no right or wrong answer.
How do I explain that we can’t afford to go on holiday like all their other friends? Or dance classes and expensive day trips?
Most things in life cost money and its important for children to understand its value and to know that everyone has differing amounts. Why not ask them to save some pocket money towards a day trip out, this will really help them to relate to how much things cost and make them understand that if they spend all their money on this trip they will miss out on other things such as sweets/magazines. Some people have lots of money and can do whatever they like; lots of days out, holidays and dance classes. However the majority of people earn less and have to budget or pick and choose what they do as they can’t afford to do everything.
Explain to your child that having lots of money can buy you nice things but it doesn’t mean you will be happier, there are plenty of lovely things you can do that are free, such as visiting your closest beach for the day, having picnics in the park and these can be equally as special. Try not to mention the cost of activities – a child won’t normally know the cost of a DVD and pizza night at home versus a cinema trip, they will take their lead from you. If there are certain things they really want to do, for example dance classes, why not get them to ask for these to be Christmas or birthday presents or encourage them to save up for them.
How does a baby get in mummy’s tummy?
This topic is being covered earlier in schools now as part of the new curriculum so it is important that you don’t give children information that they will get laughed at in class when the more factual answers are given. Simple and honest approaches work best to all of these questions.
For preschoolers you could try something simple like ‘When a Mummy and a Daddy love each other very much they make a decision to have a baby. Daddy puts a special baby seed into an area in mummy’s body called a Womb. The Womb looks after the seed and helps it to grow into a baby.’
My friend said I am ugly. Is it true?
This question should be met with a strong, emphatic answer – ‘No’. Explain that no one is ‘ugly’ and it is not a nice thing to call someone or be called!! Everyone looks different, and this is a good thing! The world would be a very boring place we all looked the same. When people are cruel to others they are often feeling unhappy inside, try to ignore the names and be nice back and hopefully they will get bored and stop.
Why do people die? Where do they go?
Your answer to this will be heavily influenced by the age of the child, the circumstances surrounding the timing of question, and your own beliefs. If a child is suffering from grief, it is important to provide reassurance in the answer, whereas if it is just one of those questions, you can encourage children to be more philosophical and think about concepts such as the circle of life, overcrowding of the world and even issues such as quality v quantity of life with older children.
Religious explanations aside, a child will benefit from hearing an adult acknowledge their own uncertainty. It is fine to say that no one really knows but lots of people have ideas that they believe and that it is ok to believe whatever you want to.
Young children don’t have a mature concept of the permanence and irreversibility of death so they need an explanation that they can relate to. The butterfly analogy works well – a caterpillar on the ground goes into it’s cocoon not having any idea that it’s about to grow wings and emerge from its sleep as a beautiful butterfly. This explanation can help take away the fear of dying that many children experience at some point.
Why are some people not very clever?
Intelligence or cleverness isn’t an easy thing to measure and there’s more to being intelligent than just doing well at school. People all have different strengths and weaknesses and researchers have identified lots of different types of intelligence. Understanding your body and using it well is one form of intelligence, being able to understand other people and know how to be a good friend is another. Some people are ‘clever’ at music or art. People all learn in different ways and their brains work slightly differently too. That is what makes us individuals and every individual has special talents and things they find difficult, so when you are talking to children about this, try and encourage them to be more descriptive describing what someone has done well at, rather than using general terms such as ‘clever’ as this will help children’s self esteem and motivation.
Why does that person have a brown face?
It’s important that we don’t over-react to children’s natural questions about individual differences. In our over-politically correct society, parents can find it difficult to answer questions like this for fear of been thought of as racist. Try to explain to children that everyone looks different – different eye colour and different hair colour, different height, body shape etc. You can explain that these characteristics come from your parents and that people tend to look similar if their families are from the same areas as they will be more closely related. With older children you can introduce more complex genetic explanations.
The journey of parenthood is filled with unexpected twists and turns, including those awkward questions that children often pose. Embracing these moments as opportunities for growth, connection, and learning can strengthen the parent-child bond and help children develop a healthy and informed perspective of the world.
By applying the tips and techniques discussed in this article, you can approach these conversations with confidence, ensuring that your child feels heard, respected, and loved. Remember that as a parent, you have the privilege of guiding your child’s understanding of the world, and your thoughtful responses can have a profound impact on their emotional development and lifelong learning.
So, the next time an awkward question pops up when you least expect it, take a deep breath, remember the strategies you’ve learned, and face the moment with patience and compassion. Together, you and your child can navigate these conversations and strengthen your relationship along the way.