“Where does poo come from?” a four-year-old boy asks his dad.
The father squirms a bit at the question but decides to give his son the facts: “Well son, food passes down the esophagus by peristalsis. It enters the stomach, where digestive enzymes induce a probiotic reaction in the alimentary canal. This contracts the protein before waste enters the colon. Water is absorbed, whereupon it enters the rectum finally to emerge as poo.”
“Wow,” says the boy. “So where does Tigger come from?”
If this is what science questions do to parents, imagine what happens when philosophy, procreation, theology, and politics enter the fray. Here are a few tried-and-true strategies to follow if you don’t want to be a deer in the headlights when your little one throws a curveball at you.
1. Never Stop Them from Asking Questions
Every parenting expert and study out there will tell you that the more conversations you have with your child, the more well-rounded they’ll turn out to be. Make your home an easy-going place for the child to kindle and satisfy her curiosity.
If you don’t do that, the kid will either feel that they’re doing something wrong or take their questions elsewhere – in which case you won’t be able to control the answer and their resultant thought process.
The more autonomy you give children in asking questions, the better their foundations in developing critical thinking skills and creativity in problem solving.
2. Find Out Where They’re Coming From
This is the oldest trick in the book. Don’t rush into the answer without any context. You might end up giving them too much information that they’re not ready for or not looking for.
Ask the child, “Why do you ask?” first, so that you don’t get into a “poo-for-Pooh” situation.
Many times, kids simply assume they’re at fault for something that has happened (that you don’t even know about yet) and are looking for either reassurance or a way to get out of what they think is a sticky situation. If it turns out to be something like that, and it’s not their fault, specifically tell them so.
3. Buy Time for Yourself
Imagine you’re in line at the bank with your seven-year-old and she goes, “Mom, is it OK for girls to kiss girls?” While the question begs further investigation and possibly a detailed explanation, it is certainly not the most comfortable place or setting!
In such cases, defer the discussion for later. Just say “That’s a great question. Let’s talk about it in the car on our way back home.” Then, it is your responsibility to bring up the topic again so that the child doesn’t feel you’re avoiding the question.
4. Always Tell the Truth
There are times when you don’t want your child to feel the pain of a situation – you think they’re too young for it – or see the reality of the world too soon. “Are you and mom getting divorced?” or “Is grandma going to die?” are two common examples.
In such a scenario, kids need to know the truth and be reassured that they will be loved and taken care of, with minimal disruption to their lives, post the event. Tell them clearly what is going to happen, why you’re going to do what you’re going to do, and what role they need to play (if any).
Of course, you don’t need to give them the whole truth in excruciating detail every time. “It’s never okay to lie,” declares Betsy Brown Braun in her book Just Tell Me What to Say. “But depending on your child’s age and maturity, it may be okay not to tell her the whole story.”
5. Make It Clear That Some Questions Are Inappropriate
“Mom, why is that lady soooo fat?” pipes up your son at the top of his voice in the supermarket. You immediately look for a hole in the ground to bury yourself. But there is none.
Rather, get the kid to apologize to the person in question and firmly explain to your kid that incivility is something they won’t get away with. This is one situation where the use of “Because I said so!” is fully justified, as you’re not going to do it any differently, are you?
Over to You
“The child is the father of man,” wrote William Wordsworth, nearly a hundred and twenty years ago. Well, clearly he didn’t know much about the science of parenting or have access to child psychology research at his disposal.
It’s time to turn the tables on the young ones and show them who’s the parent by virtue of having all the answers!
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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