In every parent’s life, there will come a time where your child asks you a question that you can’t answer. Not because you don’t know the answer (although that will happen also), but because your kid is not ready for the answer, or at least you don’t think they are.
“Where do children really come from, or how are babies made. What happens when you die? Why doesn’t a schoolmate like me? Is there a heaven or God? Why do people lie? Why do people do drugs or hurt themselves? There are literally an endless amount of questions, starting with "why" that we cannot or should not answer at certain times. Although you should always be willing to talk to your child about any subject and make sure that they feel they can come to you with anything, sometimes we can’t answer the questions they are asking.
Difficult questions are called difficult questions for a reason. They challenge us to balance honesty with age-appropriateness, giving enough information without giving too much information and presenting the facts in a way our children can understand. So how can you explain that to them, without alienating them, making them feel small, or giving them an answer they can't handle? It’s tricky but it can be done.
Asking them what they think will give you an idea for the motivation for their question.
Keep it Simple and Age-Appropriate
We typically give our children more information than they need. With that in mind, consider your child's question carefully. If you can answer with a yes, no or ‘because I said so’, leave it at that and see how your child responds. "Be informative, but you don't have to be too elaborate," says clinical psychologist and author, Paul Coleman to Better Homes & Gardens.
Also, try making your answer age-appropriate by making your answer short and simple rather than long and complicated. For example, if your kindergartener is wondering how babies are made, it’s probably OK just to go with, “they grow in their mommy’s bellies.” If a question is too private, there’s nothing wrong with saying so, continues Coleman. Admitting that certain questions and answers are private shows that there are boundaries, yet it won't seem as if you have anything to hide from them.
Explore Your Child's Question
Often there's a specific concern that's driving a child’s question. Ask them what they think so you can understand exactly what the child wants to know. With especially tough questions such as - sex, drugs or death - it might just feel right to ask your kids what they think before you come out with an answer to the question they’ve asked.
Asking them what they think will give you an idea for the motivation for their question. Sometimes your child’s question might be an unconscious request for help or the result of a hidden fear, which is why experts suggest trying to make sense of what your child is really asking for. "Sometimes just reflecting the feeling behind the question is enough. Sometimes they're not looking for information -- they're looking for empathy," explains child psychologist James Brush, Ph.D., to CNN.
How Honest Should You Be?
At some point, your children’s questions will get more difficult to answer, leaving most parents wanting to avoid the truth in favor of a sugar-coated answer. But is brutal honesty really necessary when your little one looks up at you wondering if Santa really exists or if there is a heaven?
There is a difference between being dishonest with a child and choosing your words carefully. There are always ways to answer a question honestly and still preserve a child’s innocence. Think of it in terms of “need to know.” If you’re caught off guard by a question that requires an especially thoughtful answer, create a distraction to give yourself a moment to think tell him you will think about it and get back to him. Just keep in mind, that if you avoid answering a question, your child, one way or another, will find out the answer on his own, and it may be an answer you would prefer him not to have.