How to answer the toughest questions kids ask

My kids are curious about the most uncomfortable topics. It’s like they have a boomerang of questions  around money, sex, God, death, relationships, and body parts.  I resist my urge to cringe, fold my arms, roll my eyes, and run away when they ask:

Mommy, when will I get boobs and how will I get them?

Why did your mom die? Will you die when I’m a kid?

How come so-and-so believes in God but you don’t? Wait, do you believe in God?

How much money do you make?

Why are there so many rainbow flags hanging and what do they mean?

Why is that girl a boy?

These are real questions from my girls. Whether you’re giggling or cringing, you’re likely wondering how the heck I answered them! Here are my strategies. And some examples.

Be candid and use the least amount of words possible.

The experts say to answer questions directly, candidly, and use the least amount of words you need to. Easy to say; hard to do. This is most challenging with topics that require complex, detailed explanations. But it works. Brilliantly. While I cringe inwardly but use direct, simple, honest explanations, my kids seemed satisfied.

Bonus: they are also less likely to seek out information from others so I’m able to control the information, eliminate the FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt), and create more trust.

Example:

Lila Pearl: Mommy, when will I get boobs and how will I get them?

Me: When your body is ready, they grow.

Lila Pearl: When does that happen?

Me: It’s different for everyone but generally when you’re older than 10.

Lila Pearl: ok!

This later led to a series of questions about breast size but on the spot she was satisfied and moved on. Side bar: this conversation is way more hilarious when she asks Josh the same question.

 

Be curious, ask questions

When my kids ask questions it’s never for the reason I think they’re asking. They hear stuff on the playground. Their friends tell them something that doesn’t match with what I’ve told them. They’re afraid of things they don’t understand (aren’t we all?!?!). When I ask them questions I can get to the root of their concern and address it directly.

Lila Pearl: Mommy, do you believe in God?

Me: Do I believe in God? (yes, I was clearly hoping answering a question with a question would stop the conversation.)

Lila Pearl: yeah, do you believe in God?

Me: Do YOU believe in God? (now I’m asking because I don’t want to contradict whatever she believes to be real).

Lila Pearl: I think so. So-and-so said God is real. And God created everything. And God is everywhere. IT’S IN THE BIBLE, MAMA (implication: it must be true).

Me: Well, some people believe everything you just said. And others don’t. Here’s what I know: no one knows for sure. Whatever you believe is good as long as it feels good. What do you believe?

Lila Pearl: (answers then asks again) do you believe in God?

Me: I’m not sure if I do or I don’t. I believe there is something bigger than us that we can’t see or touch. And I also believe we create our own experiences. If you ask anyone else this question expect a lot of different answers. And remember, whatever someone believes is ok. (I realize this is A LOT to tell a six-year-old but it’s ok, she’ll retain what makes sense to her).  Do you have more questions about God? (I want her to know this is a subject we can keep talking about as long as she needs to.)

This conversation continued for an entire car ride then resumed a week later with follow up questions.

 

Remove judgment

This is particularly hard when it’s a subject I have a lot of judgment about. Here’s the trick: I never share what *I* think about a subject. Not with my words or my body language. (ok, I can’t say I’m successful with this all the time. Eye rolling and tone of voice gives away my real thoughts when I feel triggered.)

Marlee: Mommy, why is so-and-so mean to me? Today…[fill in story of what happened]

Me: wow, that hurts. How did you respond?

Marlee shares more. I try not to reflect my feelings that the other kid might be an asshole. (don’t judge! I’ve got fierce mama-protective-instincts). I ask, “what happened right before that?”

And then it all comes out. Sometimes that other kid really was a jerk. Other times Marlee did something to prompt a mean (or worse, cruel) response. I have to take a deep breath when I realize it’s *my* kid causing trouble. Because, hello, our NUMBER ONE RULE IS BE KIND and all violations of this rule feel unacceptable.

Me: How do you think so-and-so felt when you [fill in violation]?

Marlee: Bad.

Me: If you were so-and-so what would you want to happen next?

I wish I could tell you that Marlee comes up with the “right” answer every time. But she’s 9. So clearly that doesn’t happen. What does happen is she feels like she can talk to me about anything and I won’t judge (much).

 

The subject I hate talking about the most: death

It is really flippin’ hard to talk about death matter-of-factly.  It’s especially hard because my girls have specific questions about people I love and miss (which makes it hard not to cry) and about difficult death related circumstances (suicide, death of other children, death of other parents).

I use *all* of the techniques to have the conversation I most want to avoid:

Marlee: Mommy, what happens when you die?

Me: Your heart stops beating and your body stops working.

Marlee: Why did your mom die?

Me: Because her heart stopped beating.  When that happened she died.

Marlee: Will that happen to you?

Side bar: Clearly I did NOT want to answer this question. Could it happen? Sure. Is it likely to happen soon? No. I want to be truthful without scaring her or making her feel unsafe so I use my untrained law-talking-skills and divert with this answer / question:

Me: Are you worried that I might die?

Marlee: YES

Me: What makes you feel concerned?

Marlee: Well I’d miss you and it happened to your mom so it could happen to you, right?

Me: So you’re afraid that I’ll die soon?

Marlee: YES [BINGO – this was her concern: that I will die tomorrow, next week, next month].

Me: Well, one day I will die. Most people live long lives and I do everything I can to be healthy, safe, and happy so that I’ll be here for you.

This conversation has happened many times over the years. As Marlee grows older her questions get more specific and more intense. I always use this strategy. It’s a mix of being curious, matter-of-fact, and validating her fears and concerns while infusing a lot of reassurance.

 

I don’t want to talk about THAT right now

I wish someone told me this a lot earlier. When kids ask tough questions it’s ok to say “I need to think about that” or “let’s talk about that another day”. Waiting too long = topic becomes taboo. Follow up soon = more trust with the kiddos.

 

There’s got to be another way

What techniques do you use when your kids ask you uncomfortable questions about thought provoking topics?

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