Has your child ever asked you a question and you find yourself stumped on how to answer it? There he is, looking at you with eyes wide, expectant, waiting for you to answer.
Some of the questions my six-year-old son has thrown to me include the following:
“Did I come from your stomach?” Easy enough to answer if…I was female. But, I am a guy.
“Why can’t you go to the store and get me a brother?” A fair question; I adopted my son six years ago and I told him how we adopted him from an orphanage.
“Can you go and find my mom?” This one’s tougher. No, his biological mom did not just step out of the house to buy a carton of milk. The last time I saw her was when the social worker took him from her and brought him to the orphanage. So, I don’t know where she is.
“Why did Jesus die?” Huh?! (Apparently he saw a clip on the internet of Jesus on the cross being pierced by a sword.)
With each of these instances, I felt like that deer in front of the headlights: my body frozen, my mind turned into mush, trying to find how best to answer his question.
Somehow, I’ve learned a few tricks that gave me enough time to frame an answer that I won’t regret giving. Perhaps you can use them when you find yourself confronted with a challenging question from your own little one.
Throw a question back at them.
“Why are you asking that question?”
Asking this (usually) works. Not only does this give you time to think of the answer, it also helps you better understand why your child is interested in that particular topic. Knowing this can guide you how to how best to answer him.
When he asked me about his mom, I asked why he was looking for her. He told me he “misses her” because he wants to play with her. So even as I explained to him that she does not live with us and it is not easy to find her, I was able to assure him that it is okay for him to miss her, and that I am there to play with him, together with the other members of our family.
Be honest if you still don’t know how to answer.
“Can I have a few minutes to think how to answer your question?”
This does not give you much time, since your child will remain looking at you waiting for an answer. And as each second passes by, you feel an increasing silent pressure to give a reply. Well, you can always resort to the first trick. But at least you can think through what to tell him later on.
When all else fails, be truthful.
Or at least be as close to the truth as possible and in a manner that he will understand. Allow me to explain by way of a side story why this is so imporant. One time, the child of a friend asked, “How are kittens born?” Her mom replied, “let’s look on the internet for that one.” Then she showed her daughter a video on how kittens are born.
Her naturally curious daughter had a follow-up question: “Is there a similar video of humans?”
Silence. Mind mush. Deer in the headlights.
In panic, the mom said, “No! There’s none.”
“Why?” asked her daughter.
Without missing a beat her mom replied, “Well, because we need to be more respectful of humans so they do not show the video of how humans are born on the internet.” The moment she said it, she wanted to take it back. She knew that some time later, her daughter will realize she lied, or worse, might try to Google the very video she didn’t want her to see—and without her mother there to guide her.
So as much as you can, tell the truth. If you must, bend the truth just a little. But be ready for follow up questions that might force your hand.
What you should avoid is ignoring the question altogether or deflecting his attention to another subject matter, no matter how tempting this can be. He might feel that his question was not important enough to even warrant an answer.
I keep hearing from my friends to savor these moments with my kids, since they don’t last long. I guess it’s the same with my son asking me his questions.
I anticipate there will come a time when my child will look to other people for answers. He won’t always come to me. He might lose his belief that I alone have all the answers to his questions. Or he’ll choose to look for other ways to search for the truth. But I hope that he will still see me as someone that he can go to, if not for answers, then to be with him in his search for answers.
For now, I will continue to enjoy the discomfort of his questions.
“Papa, what does heaven look like?”
…Wish me luck.