Answering children’s questions can be a challenging proposition. Sometimes we’re surprised at the insight or frankness of a child’s inquiry and then launch into an unnecessary long explanation.
Other times, we feel so bombarded by when, what, why and where that we’d welcome a vacation from “20 Questions.”
As long as there are children eager to learn about their surroundings, there’ll be questions. One way to make the most of their inquisitive times is to sharpen our listening skills. What are they really asking? This basic ingredient of all communication – listening – helps us to give more specific and helpful responses.
Usually children are asking for one of three types of answers. Our listening ability will determine which type to offer.
“I want the facts” is the direct type of request perhaps most common of youngsters. Questions about the environment, machines, animals, holidays, and space are topics we tackle from the preschool years on. All these are likely to stump a parent once in a while, unless you’re a walking encyclopedia. But being well read and up-to-date on our ever-changing world will arm us, along with the reference books or computer search for the tougher questions.
Looking answers up together is a good way to show that answering our own questions can be an on-going everyday adventure. High interest books from the library encourage individual investigation.
Listening carefully and sometimes asking, “Is this what you mean…?” helps us to identify exactly what facts children are seeking. For instance there’s the time a son asked, “Mom, where did I come from?” so the mom carefully explained the facts of reproduction. Then the son replied, “Oh, Billy came from Massachusetts!”
Then there are the young philosophical types of questions, which involve more reflection than clarification. “Why do crickets sing at night?” or “Why do we need the color black?” are typical questions which are often just a desire by children to test out their own explanations and reasons for a puzzle at hand.
Why not turn the questions back to them? One young boy came up with these theories: “Crickets sing at night because people aren’t around to kill them” and “We need black for the sky at night.”
Letting children answer their own questions promotes more reflective thinking and logical reasoning.
The third type of question is the hidden one. It can be the hardest to answer because it’s a cover-up for something deeper. We might have a reply for their immediate question, but often further discussion will expose another concern or challenge. “Do I have to go to school?” or “Are you sorry that you grew up?” would suggest to listening parents that there might be more.
Exploring answers and solutions to the more serious concerns of children can bring comfort and closeness to the family unit. They may not be instant solutions, but active listening will help to get the real questions out into the arena of discussion.
Above all show children that you hear their questions by saying that you understand what they are asking and by working at providing a good answer. This is the best way to invite more questions and promote a child-parent interchange through the years.