How To Answer Your Curious Child's Questions (part 2)

Do your child’s questions leave you feeling shocked, and at times, a bit uncomfortable? Worry not, we got an expert to tell you how to answer your little one’s difficult questions.

By Leena Ghosh

How To Answer Your Curious Child's Questions (part 2)

“I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt

Indeed, curiosity is the key that unlocks all doors to learning for a child. While, as parents, questions like ‘But, why?’ may annoy us from time to time, the answers to these questions are crucial for your child to have a better understanding of how things work or, sometimes, exist.

While science can answer most questions, there are some questions that need to be handled sensitively and, as parents, we need to use our creativity to make our children understand the answers.

However, if you still have questions that leave you wondering how to explain to your child, we have brought in an expert to help you out. Mahalakshmi Rajagopal, Director of Sahayam Intervention Centre and Sahayam Charitable Trust, Delhi answers some of your child’s difficult questions.

Questions children usually ask

1. About feelings

  • Why is Ma sad?
  • Why is Ma crying when she is happy?
  • Why is Dad shouting at that uncle?
  • You said fighting is bad. Why are you fighting with Dad?
  • Why is that uncle crying in the hospital?

Expert’s take: “It is important to say the truth and be honest. For example, when the mother is feeling a little down because of her monthly cycle and the child asks, “Mamma, why are you crying? Are you sad?”, it is important to say, “No, I have some stomach pain. But I will soon be alright.” It’s very important to reassure the child, otherwise he may think you are critically ill. He can perceive an emotion as something very serious. So, as much as possible, parents need to tell him the truth. Again, if there is a huge crisis in the family which he is too young to understand, it is very important to explain it to him. You may say, “Yes, there are some things that are worrying mamma and papa and that is why we are tensed or angry.” But parents must remember to assure the child that very soon things would be fine.

It’s also important for parents to regulate their emotions. For example, if a couple is fighting, as parents, they need to ask themselves, “Do we really need to fight over it?” However, in the event of an argument or a fight, when the child asks you, “Why are you fighting?”, you must give an explanation to her. You should say, “Yes, we are fighting. But that does not mean I don’t love your father. It’s just that there are certain things we don’t agree with each other.” You must be able to bring your fight to a level your child understands. It is also important that even if you are fighting you should never speak against the other parent in front of the child no matter how small she is. Also, never validate any inappropriate behaviour of your partner.”

2. About health

  • Why is he sick?
  • What are germs? How do they get into food?
  • Why do my feet stink sometimes?
  • What’s an infection?
  • Why must I wash my hands before eating?

Expert’s take: “Health is a very easy issue to talk about with your child and you can explain it to him scientifically, without scaring him. For example, when you tell him that you have eaten a bun without washing your hands and, therefore, you are going to fall sick, it is going to make the whole scenario scary. Lessons on health and hygiene should be given in a scientific manner. Even for very young children, you can tell about germs that can’t be seen and can enter the body, if they do not wash their hands before they eat. Always be objective about these explanations.”

3. About social etiquette

  • Why must I always say, ‘Thank You?’
  • He didn’t say, ‘Please.’ Can I refuse to help him?
  • He hit me. Why can’t I hit him back?
  • I don’t like her. Why must I talk to her?
  • What do you mean by ‘being rude’?

Expert’s take: “When parents bring children to my centre they are so insistent that the child should say thank you and I always say, “Let it be.” If they don’t want to say, ‘thank you’, it’s ok. I always say it is not required because I feel we are putting too much pressure on the child. But if the child likes what she is given, or what is said about her, then it is important she communicates it to the other person. For that, it is important the feeling comes from within.

Also, we need to make our children understand that many times the other person may not say ‘thank you’ and that it is ok. However, he should continue to do so. Same goes for wishing someone. I have heard my own children say that, “I’m not going to wish that teacher because I wished her in the corridor and she did not even look at me.” That’s a common thing children face. They feel humiliated and insulted when the teacher does not respond. So, I always tell them, “You are wishing your teacher because you want to wish them. It is ok if they don’t wish you. Leave it at that. Even if they have not wished you, you have had a good morning.”

When it comes to the question of hitting or hitting back, we have to teach our children that hitting is not a healthy habit and they should report it whenever someone hits them. But, if your child feels she is in a dangerous situation, she may have to fight back. You cannot explain this in detail to a two or a three-year-old, but to a seven-year-old, you can. However, you must teach her to always report and never be quiet about it. We must never create passive personalities. Very often, we teach our children not to hit anyone, but we never ask them to report if they get hit. So, they think they can suffer in silence. This is an important lesson that has to be taught to children, so they never suffer in silence. Teach them to get attention by raising their voice if they are being hit, so they don’t have to suffer silently.”

4. About food

  • Why must I eat green vegetables?
  • Why must I eat broccoli/ spinach?
  • Why can’t I eat soil? They are found in the garden too.
  • Can eggs grow on trees?
  • Do all animals give milk? Why do I have only cow’s milk?

Expert’s take: “Base all your answers on science. Explain to your children how eating greens helps the body fight diseases or how eating carrots keeps eyes healthy. However, tell them they can’t eat everything that is found in the garden like soil or weeds. Help them understand by saying, “Every living being has to eat what is good for them, like how plants may depend on soil for their nutrients, and cows on hay and grass.” Explain that what may be good for one may not be for another.”

5. About family

  • What is a family function?
  • He is not my brother. He is my aunt’s son. Why must I call him ‘my brother’?
  • What do you mean by ‘being related’?
  • What’s a family tree? Does it grow in the garden?
  • What do you mean by ‘distant cousin’. Does he stay far away?

Expert’s take: “You can explain who relatives are first. You can start by saying, “Just as you have a family with mummy, papa and brother, papa also has his family which includes his parents and siblings. Same goes for mummy. This is what we mean by an extended family or relatives. And, family function is an event when many family members get together to celebrate a special occasion.”

When it comes to the question of addressing a cousin or a distant relative as ‘anna’ or ‘akka’ or ‘bhaiyya’ or ‘didi’, tell your child, “Your cousin is older than you; so, instead of calling him by his name, it would be nice to call him ‘anna’. However, everybody knows he is not your own brother and he also knows that.” Such explanations would help.”

6. About animals

  • Why do some animals sleep while standing?
  • How do fish breathe in water?
  • How do bees make honey?
  • Why do some animals eat other animals?
  • Why do some animals sleep on trees?

Expert’s take: “Again, all these answers should be answered scientifically and logically. We have many television shows as well as videos on the Net that explain all these things in an interesting manner. You could show them to your child or you could also take her to an aquarium or animal park to explain these concepts.”

7. About space and universe

  • How can I go to the moon?
  • How does the rocket stay up in the sky? What’s holding it?
  • How many stars are there in the sky?
  • Why can’t I see the moon in the morning?
  • Can I fly up and catch a star?

Expert’s take: “Take your child on a guided tour of the space station or the ISRO office. You can also show her through videos how a rocket is launched and explain the process. Explain the logic or the process behind each question to help her understand better.”

8. About people who are not real

  • Why does Santa always have to come through the chimney?
  • Why does Santa come only in December?
  • Where does the tooth fairy live?
  • What are ghosts? Why are they scary?
  • Does a man really live on the moon?

Expert’s take: “I told my daughters Santa comes in through the windows when we are not watching. All these questions are only to build a level of excitement in the child. As early as possible (probably, when they are about five or six-years-old), we can tell children about what is real and what is not. We must also tell our children that ghosts don’t exist, but souls do. We must take the ‘fear factor’ out of the concept of ghosts.” 

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