Recently, our nearly six year old has been asking some real gems about the world. I have entertained several queries about God, her body, my body, the bodies of others, people’s intentions, what happens when people die, and even questions about disasters and murder.
This is not something you generally prepare for when expecting a child or when raising a youngster . . . we generally plan and worry about baby names and birth expectations. We prepare for breastfeeding and parenting. We stock up on items we will need and advice from other parents. Well, do I have a piece of advice for all parents: prepare yourself for the questions.
Our children look to us as their leaders and teachers, and though they might not always be able to listen and respond the way we would like them to, when they have a serious question, they trust our answer. Thankfully, answering hard questions can be simplified by keeping in mind three simple guiding ideas: truth, tact, and appropriateness.
Raising a truthful child is a true blessing, but it takes work. Practicing attachment parenting, modeling truth and honesty, avoiding labels and set-ups for lying, and offering amnesty are all ways to encourage truth and honesty as an asset of a strong personality.1 The world offers so many contrary ideas to our children: little white lies, punishments for lying, and a distorted mass media outlook . . . we must endeavor to be truth tellers and models of honesty for our children.
So, while driving to church on Sunday, when our young child asked me: “If people are buried when they die, how do they get through the stones to get to heaven?,” I didn’t ignore her question. But I also didn’t make up a story either. I answered truthfully, and she accepted the answer and moved on to another question.
Even though we should model truth for our children, we also have to model tact. Not all truths are pretty, and sometimes we need to think about the way we are presenting facts in order to say things in a manner that is appropriate and also shows respect to our children. So, when Abbey asks a question to which the answer is a truth that may be scary or hurtful to her, I make sure to think before I speak. That is the definition of tact: telling the truth in a way that does not hurt someone’s feelings; thinking before you say something.
Our current military assignment on an isolated island in Alaska has created many a “why do we have to stay here?” or “I hate it here. When can we go see Grandma in Texas?,” and these are excellent examples of hard questions wherein I must utilize tact. My truthful response would be, “We have to stay here because those are daddy’s orders and we won’t move until the military tells us to do so,” and “Yeah, it sucks here, but trips to Texas are just too expensive right now,” respectively. But neither of those statements is really appropriate for a six year old to hear and process well. Instead, I might choose to use tact to make my responses less harsh. Explaining why we have to stay here might go something like “We have lived so many new places, and this place is one of them. When it’s time to move, I will let you know.” Responding to her honest hatred of the isolation on the island, I would (and do at least bi-weekly) utilize tact to present a truthful answer that’s just a bit kinder than the original response my mind comes up with: “It’s an adventure here, and when we see Grandma again, we’ll tell her all the great new things we did here on ‘the rock.’ It’s not the right time to visit Grandma, but I’ll let you know when the right time is.”
When answering hard questions, thinking about age and circumstantial appropriateness is also important. Children go through several developmental stages before they even hit the age of five, so remembering where your child is in his particular understanding of the world can help you construct responses to hard questions in a way the he can understand and accept.
When my six year old asked about murder, I thought about truth, tact, and appropriateness.
“Some people choose to kill others. That’s what murder means. It is a terrible, sad thing that happens. When people die, they are gone forever from the Earth. That is why murder is a crime, and why we do not ever hurt one another or joke about killing.”
Toddlers need simple answers, preschoolers live in a world of fantasy and reality simultaneously, school-aged children are more prone to desire facts, and adolescents are starting to form a moral compass of their own. Every different stage needs a different approach, and every child has his or her own individual needs as well. Observation is a fantastic way to learn what individual needs your child has, and you can use these observations to determine the developmental appropriateness of your answers to tough questions.2
Do you have tips on answering hard questions? How do you utilize truth, tact, and appropriateness to answer your children’s queries about the world?
Used with permission from James Jordan via Flickr Creative Commons