The toughest questions children ask – and how to deal with them

Why's the sky blue? How did I get in your tummy? Don't panic...we've got (almost) all the answers!

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Why, why, why? Yep, there comes a time in every parent’s life when you face a daily barrage of questions from your child – and you realise there are quite a few (actually, loads) you have absolutely no IDEA how to answer.

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These impossible questions come in a variety of different guises:

  • The difficult science question: Why is the sky blue? Why do dogs have tails? How are rocks made?
  • The ‘where do we come from?’ question you weren’t expecting quite so soon: Where do babies come from? How did I get in your tummy?
  • The embarrassing loud and in public question: Why does that lady have a moustache? Why is than man fat?
  • The shocking events on the news question: Why were those guys blowing those guys up?
  • The philosophical question: What happens when you die? Is Santa/the tooth fairy/Elf on the Shelf real?

So, how ON EARTH do you answer any of them?

First things first: stay calm

Small children’s questions do tend to come out of the blue and, even if you do happen to have a degree in astrophysics from Oxford, a sudden query about how exactly asteroids killed the dinosaurs is not exactly a cakewalk – especially if you’re busy making lunch at the time.

So, stop and breathe. Then, yes, you could do a quick Google on your phone but then you’d have to explain your search result in language your child can understand. A smarter way might be to have an Really Important Questions Book at home. Then you can  say, ‘Wow, that’s a really important question! Let’s put in in our Really Important Questions Book.’

This makes your child feel chuffed for thinking up such a brilliant question and, crucially, gives you time to find a good answer. Then, when you’ve had a chance to think for a bit, you can share a nice moment with your child writing down the answer in the book. (This also means you now have the answer written down, so if you’re asked the same question again, you know what to say – or at least where to look!)

Be interested

OK, OK, we know this one can be hard – especially when it’s the 14th question in 3 minutes or you suspect it might all just be a cunning bedtime-delaying tactic, but curiosity is a great trait in any child – and it’s good to encourage it. Even if you’re sighing inwardly. It will be worth it. One day.

Keep it simple

Making your answer age-appropriate – which probably means making it short and simple rather than long and complicated – is often the best way to go for those really tricky answers. And a good rule of thumb is to never to explain more than you’re asked.

So, if your daughter’s 4 and wondering how babies are made, it’s probably OK just to go with: “Mummies and Daddies sometimes have a special baby-making cuddle.”

It really might not be necessary to go into lots of detail about sperm and eggs and the fitting together of parental anatomy. If your child seems happy enough with the baby-making cuddle answer, you’ve done your job – for now!

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Don’t worry if you have to ‘massage the truth’ occasionally

We’re really not condoning telling lies to your children here but, sometimes, you might just need to say something that’s not entirely true – or at least not the whole brutally honest picture.

For instance, if Aunt Jenny and Uncle Toby have a bitter break-up, it may be better to say that the reason Aunt Jenny doesn’t come round so often is because she and Uncle Toby just aren’t friends like they used to be. You’re not lying; you’re simplifying the truth, and shielding your child from a load of adult-level fallout he or she probably shouldn’t be lumbered with so young.

While you might be a parent who wants to keep it real for the kids, sometimes they don’t need to know the whole truth.

Ask them what they think

Sometimes – especially on occasions when fairies, Santa and Christmas elves are involved – it might just feel right to ask your kids what they think before you come out with an answer to the question they’ve asked.

The fact your child is questioning whether or not Santa is real could mean one of two things: they’ve heard other kids saying he isn’t real but don’t want to believe it or they’ve heard other kids saying he isn’t real and are beginning to realise the truth.

Only by asking them what they think will give you an idea of where they’re at. If they say, “I think he’s real”, then you know how to respond; if they say “I know Santa is you, Mummy!” then it might be time to come clean and approach Christmas a bit differently from now on.

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Don’t tell them off too much in public

Those embarrassing questions can be the worst: “Why does that lady have a funny hat on?” (when it’s actually her hair). The important thing is not to make too big a deal of it. Deflection’s a good tactic here: “Oooh, look at that big lorry”!

And perhaps at a later time you can explain about not hurting people’s feelings. But no need for a dressing-down in public. And they will grow out of this, we promise.

Don’t be afraid of admitting you don’t know

Sometimes you might just be genuinely stumped by a question your child asks. You might be out with no resources to hand at all – but it’s totally OK to tell your child you simply don’t know the answer.

It might EVEN be one so unexpected, you’re not sure Google will be able to help you out. But that’s OK, your child doesn’t need to know you’re a genius, they just need to know you’re interested.

What do you think?

Ever get stumped by your child’s questions? How do you tackle a particularly tricky one? Tell us in the comments below.

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