Q: My seven-year-old has a question, ‘Why is land is not sinking into our oceans?’ How can I answer his question without making him feel that he has asked a stupid question and at the same time ensure that he does not think that I know nothing.
A: One way to respond is by telling him, “You have asked me a very interesting question. I am also interested in finding out this answer. Why don’t we explore this together?” Usually, your first instinct is to search the Internet, but I suggest otherwise. Ask a couple of other people if they know the answer; this will create a platform for debate and discussion, which is an important skill for a child to pick up. Later on, you could verify the answers with the help of the Internet or other reference books.
For this particular question, you can also show him a 3D map of the earth and show that even the ocean has a floor and the whole earth is not just filled with water.
Padma Srinath, Child Development Expert and an Educationist
Q: ‘Mom, why don’t you like it when I try kissing you in the mouth? Why do lovers like it? I love you. So why don’t you like it?’ What answer should I give my 8-year-old daughter?
A: Your daughter may feel that kissing on the lips signifies ‘more love’. She perhaps got this idea because she saw it in a movie, where a couple kiss on the mouth to express their deep love. Using that logic, she naturally feels that since she loves you SO MUCH, she wants to show it by kissing you on the lips.
In India, by and large, kissing a child on the lips is not the cultural norm and hence the feeling of discomfort. So explain to her that love is expressed in different ways, depending on the kind of relationship. Tell her that the love between a parent and child, between siblings or between an aunt and niece is part of the ‘cheek-kissing’ category. In marriage, one can express affection even by kissing on the lips, and this is the only kind that falls in the ‘lip-kissing’ category.
Assure your child that kissing on the lips does not mean that the degree of love is greater. Make a conscious decision with her, that instead of kissing on the lips, you both can hug each other and kiss on the cheek/forehead. Children thrive on physical touch from a parent as it provides a sense of comfort and security, so understandably if ‘lip kissing’ is out; make sure there are enough hugs to go around!
By Aparna Samuel Balasundaram, Psychotherapist and a Parent and Child expert
Q: ‘What do you mean by sex’?
A: Respond to your child, and give her information that she is capable of understanding. The parent has to prepare herself and should not let her child think that she is uncomfortable. Then depending on the age of the child, you can answer appropriately:
For a 5-year-old child:
- First, you need to find out from where she heard about it. You can start the conversation by saying, “Oh wow, you seem to be learning a new word every day, so from where did you get to learn this word?”
- It may be as simple as explaining that when we say ‘sex of a person’, it labels the person as a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl’
- Otherwise, you can talk to the child about her body. When it comes to the sexual organs, you can tell her that anything related to these private parts is called sex.
- You can also talk to her about the ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ parts and inform her that if anyone touches her ‘unsafe’ part without her permission, she has to tell you about it.
For a 10-year-old:
Today’s 10-year-olds have access to a lot of information. By this age, they may have seen a few videos about the topic. To them, you can talk about the intimate ways in which people express their love and how, as people grow older, there are different ways to express this intimacy.
Have a mature talk. Find out how much she knows about this. Based on her processing abilities, you need to teach her to differentiate healthy from unhealthy, normal from abnormal, and distortions from deviations.
Arundhati Swamy, a Chennai-based Counsellor
Q: ‘Where has grandma gone?’ How can I explain the phenomenon of death in a way that my child comes to terms with it?
For a 5-year-old child:
When I have to explain about death to a young child I relate the ant story, which I am narrating below.
“When an ant dies, four to five ants respectfully carry the dead ant to a suitable place and they pay their homage. In the same way, we are paying our respect to grandma by giving her a decent burial because we all loved her dearly. We have gathered here like the ants to pay our homage.” You can also tell him that he will not be able to talk to his grandma again; she will become a star and bless us always.
For a child who is over 10 years old:
If it is an expected death of an ailing person, these children accept it. But in the case of an untimely loss of say, a sibling, the grief is far more intense than even that of the parents. The child would never have imagined her life without her sibling. She wonders in her mind, or cries aloud, “Why do I have to be the one to lose my brother?” So, parents need to be mindful of their surviving child’s feelings, whatever their personal grief – they are still role models. They can gently speak along these lines, “I understand that this is very difficult for all of us. We know that this is a permanent loss and it will take some time for us to accept this fact. But if you observe life, it is always changing and we are a part of it. Every minute, we need to engage ourselves fruitfully to make the best of it, however difficult it is. We have to be courageous. We are glad we have you.” This may comfort the child to some extent.
Dr S Yamuna, Consultant Paediatrician and Adolescent Physician
Q: When my child says, ‘I don’t think that God exists. I cannot see him or feel him’, how can I explain the presence of God to her?
A: You can explain the concept of God through stories or by helping her to reason it out on her own, depending on the child’s depth of thought.
Answer 1 – through stories:
Tell your child stories. Depending on her maturity, you will have to tell her stories that talk about how God-revelation happened, or how the power of God was experienced. Our mythology abounds with stories – Prahlada and Dhruva are ‘child-heroes’ who managed to see God, but after great effort. Bring home to him that nothing is possible without effort, but with effort, anything can be done, including experiencing God. You can also tell folk stories, like this one below:
“There was a young king who did not believe in God. The king told his minister that if he could answer his questions, he would start believing in God. As the minister was despairing, his cook volunteered to provide the answers on his behalf.
The king was sitting on a silver throne and offered a small stool to the cook. The cook said that in accordance with tradition, the teacher should sit at a higher level than the student. Therefore the king needed to sit on the stool, while the cook had to sit in the throne. The king didn’t like it but agreed.
The cook then asked one of the soldiers to get a black cow, feed it grass and get milk from it. The cook then asked the king. “How can a black cow eating green grass produce white milk? Have you practised any magic?” When the king shook his head, the cook responded: “There are many things in this world that we have not created – milk, cows, ocean, sun, moon and earth. There must be a Higher Power that has created them. That is God.”
“What does He do?” asked the king. The cook said. “You are the mighty king and you are sitting on a stool whereas I am just your minister’s cook and I am sitting on a silver throne. You would never have imagined this, yet it is happening. Who is making this possible? The supreme God!” The king was satisfied with the answers.”
Rukmani Jayaraman, a self-help consultant, and an honorary consultant for TTK Hospital
Answer 2 – through reasoning:
Young children are concrete thinkers who need to perceive through their senses to understand. Abstract and analytical thinking develops in children only after the age of 12 years. ‘God’ is an abstract concept that even we adults have a difficult time grasping. It therefore helps to explain this concept through a concrete analogy.
Our ancient philosophers have often used the analogy of the ocean and waves to explain ‘God’.
Have your child imagine that she is a little wave in a large ocean, surrounded by lots of waves of all sizes. Can she see the large ocean? Is she a part of the ocean? Where does she get the extra water and power from to become a bigger wave?
Allow her to think and answer these questions on her own. Now explain to her that we, the people, are like the waves and the ocean is like God. We are all part of God, even though we cannot see God and God gives us the energy and power to accomplish all our endeavours.
Children and even most adults pray without any questioning, blindly following the people they look up to. The very fact that your child is asking such deep questions shows that she is really trying to make sense of the world around her. Encourage such questioning, instead of admonishing her as an atheist. Such questioning eventually deepens her understanding and devotion to God.
Anusha Ram, mother of teens, and interested in Vedanta