'Where do babies come from?'
This is one question your child’s almost sure to ask - yet a quarter of us resort to myths such as, ‘Out of Mummy’s tummy button.’ While that might satisfy your child for now, it’s best not to spout stories about cabbage patches and storks, and to give a truthful reply - at a level that’s right for your child.
That might be, ‘A baby grows from a tiny egg and seed in the mummy’s tummy.’ Or, ‘There’s a seed from daddy and an egg from mummy and together they make a baby.’ Keep it clear and simple.
That way, you’ll create an atmosphere in which children know they can trust you to give honest answers and take their concerns seriously.
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‘Is God real?'
How you talk about God depends largely on your own beliefs. However, it’s important to convey that it’s up to everyone to decide for themselves, and that there’s no wrong or right answer.
‘While we’re not religious, most of Jake’s friends’ families are,’ says Belinda, 37, whose six year-old recently popped the God question. ‘So I said, “Me and Daddy don’t believe in any God, but lots of people do and no one really knows for sure.’
Hopefully, your response will encourage your child to think things over for himself, and to respect that other people might have different beliefs from his own.
‘Why don’t I have any friends?'
Try not to respond with a blithe, ‘Of course you do, sweetheart!’ as she simply won’t believe you. Even if she does have buddies, it’s important to acknowledge that your child perceives herself to be friendless right now.
Use her question as a starting point to discuss friendships in a wider sense. You could say, ‘I’m sure there are people you could be friends with.’ Then ask how she might get to know them better (perhaps by inviting them over to play).
Be sure to remind her that, even when she falls out with a friend, they can get back together and be close once again.
‘Why is that lady so fat?’
Eeek! It’s one of those ‘run for cover’ moments. Whether it’s a blurted-out question about someone’s size (or why they’re in a wheelchair, or why they ‘look funny’), most parents have experienced this kind of mortal embarrassment in a public place.
It’s perfectly acceptable to hush your child and say, ‘It upsets people if we say things like that’.
Tell her you’ll talk about it, and answer any questions she may have, when you get home.
‘Will you still love me when the new baby comes?’
Pregnancy triggers a whole raft of questions, which are often signs that your child is worried about the changes to come.
‘I was pregnant with Megan when my son David, who was three, looked at me all wide-eyed and worried and said, “When the baby’s born will you still be my mummy too?”’
Use these questions as an opportunity to talk things over, reassuring your child that of course you’ll love them just the same as you always have.
‘Why did my rabbit have to die?’
Children can develop incredibly close bonds with pets, and you’re likely to face heart-breaking questions when an animal dies. Again, it’s always best to give as honest and simple an answer as you can, explaining that every living thing dies eventually.
If a pet has been put down by the vet, you can add that this is the kindest way to take away an animal’s pain. Do encourage your child to talk about her pet as much as she wants to.
That way, she’ll be able to remember the happy times as well as the sadness of losing her friend.
‘Will Gran get better?’
Questions regarding illness can be incredibly tricky, especially when they lead to talking about death. So, while it might feel easier to say, ‘Yes, of course she will’, it’s better not to give a child false hope.
Instead, explain that Gran is getting the best possible care, and that everyone hopes she’ll be well again soon. If a relative passes away, encourage your child to talk and ask questions, no matter how difficult they may be.
It’s important that he understands that death happens, and that it can be helpful and comforting to talk about it.
‘Why do I have to go to school?’
‘Because it’s the law’ is the quick, trite answer - yet what your child is really saying is, ‘I don’t like going there.’
Talk to your child about how important it is to learn, and that school helps him to find out about the world. You can then discuss other things school is good for, like forming friendships and learning to do things for himself.
As you chat, try to find out why he’s unhappy at school, and if it’s just a blip or a bad day - or something deeper.
‘Why do people take drugs?’
While it’s tempting to say, ‘Because they’re silly’, the more helpful response is to acknowledge that, in the short term, some people think that drugs make them happier or feel good.
Then, taking care to use terms your child can understand, explain about the negative effects of drugs. It’s important not to bombard your child with more information than she needs or can handle.
For a young primary-aged child, ‘Drugs can really harm your body’ is probably enough for now.
‘What the point of studying when there aren’t any jobs?’
It’s understandable that your teen feels despondent when the news appears to be all doom and gloom.
Try to encourage him to explore as many options as possible, and find out what he needs to get there (exams and studying seem more meaningful when there’s a goal in sight).
Of course, some teens blurt out the ‘it’s all pointless!’ line when they can’t be bothered to study. Be as supportive as you can, while conveying that you have confidence that he’ll do his best.
‘Can my girlfriend stay over?’
Be guided by your gut feeling here instead of any desire to avoid conflict. Teenagers differ greatly in maturity, as do adults’ attitudes towards teens having sex.
While there’s an argument for ‘better do it here than sneak off somewhere else’, you may feel strongly that allowing a girlfriend to stay over gives them the green light to have sex. If you do say yes - and both your child and his partner are over the age of consent - ensure that they are fully clued-up about safe sex and contraception.
Check with his girlfriend’s parents, too, to make sure they’re aware that she’s staying at your place and are fine with that.
‘Can I have a party when you go out on Saturday night?'
Err on the cautious here. Studies have shown that, despite their best intentions, teens struggle to put their own personal safety first when they’re under peer pressure.
Plus, so many factors - like gatecrashers, or friends taking drugs/getting drunk - can spiral out of their control. If you say no, add that it’s because their safety is your priority, and not because you don’t trust them.
Then figure out a compromise, like allowing them to have friends over while you’re in the house - and promise to keep out of the way.
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