Aleteia

How to respond to a young child’s never-ending questions

Father, Daughter, Draw
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It can take a lot of patience, but the effort will help your child for the rest of their life.

Happy is the child who asks questions and has adults around willing to listen! Curiosity is not necessarily a terrible defect, and even though some questions may be indiscreet or embarrassing, it mostly shows a keen, interested mind and the urge to understand things.

The trusting child expects an answer, certain of the infinite knowledge of Mom and Dad. Grown-ups, in general, may not have the same degree of confidence in themselves (!), but that does not keep our children from interrogating us, or even adding a touch of challenge into the mix. 

In any case, some questions embarrass us because we don’t know the answer. Or it might be a complicated issue that needs more explanation. Perhaps the question concerns family secrets, or the child is not mature enough to understand; or they ask us at an inappropriate moment. We might be tempted to pretend we haven’t heard and later forget about it. Or perhaps we elude the problem with an evasive “We’ll talk about it later.” But every question demands an answer, and not just any answer.

To respond well, you need to listen well

If we use strategies to avoid uncomfortable questions, our children might give up asking us questions entirely … But they will search for answers somewhere else and, likely, not in the best places. We will have lost a good opportunity to fulfill our mission as parents and earn their trust. Our children don’t actually expect us to know everything; they just want us to pay attention to everything that intrigues them or makes them uneasy. They don’t want us to answer as if we were an internet search engine, but as one unique person to another unique person. To give a good answer you have to begin to listen well. Quite often the most important thing is not the question itself, but “the question behind the question.” 

And what if you don’t know the answer? Admit that you don’t know; it’s that simple Whenever you can, invite the child to search for the answer — in a dictionary, on the internet, in the Bible, wherever. When the question is something about faith and you’re not sure of the answer (the mystery of the Holy Trinity, for example, or the Eucharist, the Resurrection, etc.), you can give the child a few clues and this can awaken their excitement to discover the mysteries of God. We shouldn’t present these realities as dark enigmas, but as something marvelous that we will never fully understand here on Earth. 

And if we have absolutely no answer …

What if we feel too uncomfortable to answer? What if, for example, the question touches on something so close to us that we can’t talk about it without getting emotional, or it concerns family issues we never talk about, or we are afraid we’ll hurt the child with an answer that is not appropriate? You don’t have to answer right then: the child only needs to know that you have heard the question, that you haven’t scolded them for having asked it (on the contrary) and that you will answer the question a little later. 

We should take some time through prayer and, if necessary, the help of others to figure out what we can and should say, and what we should keep to ourselves. Responding sincerely to a child is not the same thing as telling them everything. We shouldn’t be afraid to answer our children’s questions. If there was something to be afraid of, it would be betraying their trust and stifling their thirst for truth, their joy of knowing and understanding. The Holy Spirit is here to help us find the right way to say it. 

Christine Ponsard

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