Answering our kids’ toughest questions

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There’s a reason why children ask the four questions at the Pesach seder. For most children, one of their favourite words is “why”. In fact, ma nishtana (why is this night…) is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to answering your kids’ questions.
by GILLIAN KLAWANSKY | Apr 18, 2019

The first question to ask, is why children ask so many questions. “Children are little philosophers, they’re intrigued by life because curiosity drives learning,” says Nikki Bush, creative parenting expert, speaker, and the co-author of Easy Answers to Awkward Questions and Tech Savvy Parenting.

“Curiosity is behind their ‘why, why, why?’ We may get irritated, but they’re trying to work out how the world works, and what impact they can have on it. Children are born curious. We don’t just have to answer their questions, we need to help them to find meaning and an understanding of the world and their place in it.”

Bush and Chabad Rabbi Ari Kievman discuss how to address four of your kid’s toughest questions.

Why do people die?

“Be straight with them,” says Kievman. “We’re born, and we die. It’s part of the cycle of life. It’s a matter of presenting it in a delicate way. Explain that that’s why we must take advantage and enjoy every moment we have. My kids and I discuss [the notion of] carpe diem – living life to its fullest in a meaningful, purposeful way.”

Bush echoes his advice, saying that we need to speak the truth in a gentle, calm, and matter-of-fact way. “We tend to try to avoid death,” she says, “but that leaves our kids completely unprepared for the reality when it does happen. Tell your children that everything that’s born and grows and lives eventually dies – including pets and people. We don’t want to scare them, so we must do it very gently and in context. Children need concrete examples. Some people die because they get sick, some get old, and some have accidents. You also need to couch it within your religious value system and beliefs surrounding death. Religious rituals around death can help ground them in the reality that the person is not coming back. It’s normal for them to keep asking until they get the answer that satisfies them.”

Why do mom and dad fight?

“While one should try to avoid fighting in front of the kids, we can’t shield our kids from reality,” says Kievman. “Just as they’re going to be exposed to death, they’re going to be exposed to fighting. Say that people sometimes have disagreements with each other. Mom and dad love each other, and because they love each other, they want to work out their differences. The kids could learn from you to fight in an appropriate way – we’re arguing, we’re debating something, we’re going to reach a conclusion that works.”

“Tell them we’re all different, we come from different backgrounds, and that’s what makes life interesting,” says Bush. “We need to understand each other, which can sometimes lead to misunderstandings and an argument. But having an argument is a way of understanding each other and a different point of view.”

Where do babies come from?

While every family is different in terms of when they talk about sex, Bush and Kievman coincidentally both mention the age of eight. “Every child will ask the question,” says Bush. “It’s very important that parents answer it within the context of their value system, and that they use their own family words to create understanding. Parents need to find teachable moments from the time their kids are about two years old to bring sexuality into mainstream conversation in an age-appropriate way. It’s better to have lots of different conversations over time than to sit down and have one discussion. ‘The talk’ is scary for a parent, and is too scary and overwhelming for a child. Do it here and there where they see birds hopping on each other or lions mating on National Geographic. Introduce the concept that it takes a male and a female to make a baby.

“Children are fascinated with their own stories, how they were born, but ultimately, they ask, how they got into mommy’s tummy. You don’t need to get to the nitty gritty immediately. Build it up and wait until they’re old enough to understand. You need to talk about the fact that making a baby happens within a loving relationship. Say, “you were made out of love”. If you don’t put sex out there, someone else will, and not necessarily in the way you’d like. With social media, YouTube and so on, your child can inadvertently get a very graphic depiction of sex. You have to get in first.”

Kievman reaffirms the importance of ensuring that the information comes from you, the parent. “They’re going to find it out one way or another. It’s important for the parents to talk about it. It’s not something you want to hide. We can’t shelter our kids from reality. Maybe years ago it was more possible but today, they’re going to be exposed to all types of things. It’s better that it comes from the parents in an appropriate, refined way.”

Why does my friend have an Xbox [insert appropriate gadget] and I don’t?

“That’s part of the major debate: do we have to have all these extras in life?” says Kievman. “I’d talk to my kid and ask whether it’s necessary for them to have it. Say that maybe your friend’s parents have more money to spend, and we, your parents, choose to spend our finances differently. We want to ensure that you have the best, and maybe that’s not a priority for us. [But] you don’t want your kids feeling deprived that other kids have things and they don’t. Say that if it’s important to you to have an Xbox, maybe we can get you the chance to play on one sometime. Give kids the message that you love them, you care for them, and you’ll get what you think is important for them. They’ll probably accept that, and appreciate that you’re looking out for their best interests.”

Use it as a chance to teach your kids some life lessons regarding budgeting and saving, says Bush. “It’s the same with cell phones,” she says, “Say we as your parents believe you can have a cell phone only by age X, and until then, you can use ours with supervision. Offer alternatives for now. Be the authority. We have to lead our children; we cannot let our children lead us. We also must have sound reasons for why the answer is no, children don’t just accept ‘because’.”


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