Psychologist Dr Tanya Byron explains how to tackle your preschooler’s tricky questions in an appropriate and sensitive way…
Have you ever fielded one of those awkward questions from your little one, like “Where do babies come from?”
If you haven’t yet, you probably will in the near future, as your little one grows more curious. No matter how open and honest you intend to be about tricky subjects – you’ve even planned a ‘birds and bees’ script in your head – when it comes down to it, you may feel caught off guard and not know what to say.
Encouraging their natural curiosity
There are the obvious situations that will spark questions – the birth of a sibling, the death of a pet, pictures on the front of newspapers. Then there are other questions that may seem to come from nowhere, but will relate to an experience your child has had.
As with any aspect of parenting, try to be honest and trust your instincts.
We should all encourage the natural inquisitiveness of a young child so don’t lie to them – instead try to pitch your answer at a level they can understand. Below is a suggested approach to the awkward question we all dread:
“Where do babies come from?”
- Take a deep breath, stay calm and put on your best adult face.
- Follow with a question, for example: “Where do you think babies come from?”
- Listen to their answer without laughing. Nod in response.
- Gently challenge their views, and be enthusiastic. “Well, Emily might say that babies are grown in small bottles under the stairs but actually it’s more exciting than that!”
- Sit them on your lap for a cuddle or kneel next to them while they play (they may not appear to be listening, but they are).
- Explore their real understanding of the facts, drawing on memories if you can. “Do you remember these photos of Mummy with her big tummy? Do you know who was in there making Mummy so round?”
- Enthusiastically greet their memory or gently remind them, and then discuss what that time was like. Be creative!
- Brace yourself for your child’s next question: “But how did I get into your tummy?”
- Pitch your answer in the same innocent way it was asked. “Well, Mummy and Daddy love each other and one day we were having a special cuddle and Daddy put a seed inside Mummy and the seed met an egg and they started to make you! Weren’t we lucky!”
Dealing with distress
Sometimes your child may need help understanding why they or others are feeling very sad – such as after a family member has died or if you are getting divorced. You can help them in the following ways.
- Be patient and allow them space to express their emotions.
- If you are stuck using words, try books, songs or drawings to support your explanations.
- If you’re unsure what to say, ask your child questions to help you understand their thinking.
- Again, be honest and answer in a way that’s appropriate to them.
- Don’t refuse to answer a question: it will make them anxious.
- Make sure there is uninterrupted time to address their questions.
- Manage your emotions but don’t be afraid to show them your sadness.
- Be led by their pace – don’t push information onto them unless they ask for it.
As you wait for the big questions to come (and they will), it’s a good idea to think through some of your answers. Don’t forget to discuss them with your partner, and talk to friends for extra inspiration.
Try to enjoy the awkward questions when they come – it’s a milestone every parent will experience at one time or another. Your child is giving you an opportunity to really think about some of life’s big questions and offer their refreshingly honest perspective in return.