September 1, 2020 — By Wendy Sachs
Right now we are all experiencing a time of questions. It’s exhausting. So this month we thought we would talk about answering questions! Sadly, we might not have answers about virtual school, Corona Virus or current politics, but we know something about the thousands of questions kids will ask from the time they begin to talk until…. well….forever! In fact, some studies show 4-year-olds ask as many as 200 to 300 questions a day.
When it comes to those big, tough questions, the first step is really tuning into what your kid is asking. A good rule of thumb when tough questions come your way is to ask a few clarifying questions. You can ask “what do you think?” Or “why do you ask?” Not only will this give a few moments to compose yourself, it may be that they are seeking info that isn’t related to their question. For instance, sometimes when kids ask about God or religion, they are really seeking the answer to the question “am I safe?”
Next, remember that the best policy is to be honest, but to not go overboard on the amount of info you give. A simple, short and clear answer is best. Kids are often overloaded with info that they don’t need.
This next tip is important especially right now. It’s ok to say “I don’t know.” The truth is that no one has all the answers. So letting a kid know that you don’t have an answer is fine. But to help kids feel in control, try adding a follow up suggestion. “I’m not sure, but we can look it up.” Or “I don’t think anyone knows right now, but we can talk about some possibilities and make a few back up plans.” In fact, teaching kids how to research answers helps them become lifelong learners. And helping kids process answers to questions that have no real immediate answers helps them to contain their anxiety and feel confident.
Use your resources!! There are literally thousands of books on topics such as racism, religion, how bodies work, sex, drugs and just about any tough topic you can think of. There are also a whole host of videos from sources like Sesame Street that offer YouTube answers that you can watch together. These books and videos can be your best friend when you are not quite sure what to say. The important part is that these are tools. Read or watch together and then discuss. Share your own thoughts, questions or worries and also your own plans and ways to cope with the anxiety that comes with big questions.
Most importantly, it is crucial to let kids know it is ok to ask questions. Even tough questions with no answers. However, there is a time and place to discuss, so you can always make a date to discuss later. If you shut kids down now, they won’t come to you down the road with the bigger questions which can turn into a bigger problem.