How to Answer Tough Questions Kids Ask

questions kids ask

“When am I going to become a foster kid and go live with another family?” The question came from my friend’s young daughter shortly after they welcomed three foster children into their home. It required quick thinking and tact. Thankfully, my friend has both. She swiftly assured her little girl their home was hers for the long haul. But soon it was clear that was just the beginning of a long litany of tricky questions to come. We have all been taken by surprise by a question from our kids that made us watch our words or clarify our values.

Here is how to answer these difficult questions without feeling trapped or replying too hastily.

Questions about life or values

Questions about significant issues or eternity can lead parents to worry about getting the answers right. These questions may also expose uncertainty in our own thinking, making it tricky to answer with confidence. It can be hard to explain who God is to a toddler or the existence of evil to a preschooler. When kids ask these types of questions—“What happens when we die?”; “Why do they celebrate Hanukkah (Christmas, Diwali) instead of what we celebrate?”; “How come they get to watch ‘R’ rated movies and we only watch ‘PG’?”—they are trying to reconcile what they see in the world with their own experience. They don’t need a treatise on the religions of the world. What they need is assurance that the way you do things in your family is done that way for a reason.

“Why are some kids so mean?” is a question whose answer may involve all sorts of complexity. But you can comfort your child by acknowledging, “Anyone can be mean if they carry anger or sadness in their hearts. I’m sorry that boy hurt your feelings. The best way to help someone who is unkind is to show kindness in return.” This answer acknowledges the child’s experience, offers a simple explanation and provides a practical way to move forward. Young children especially need simple answers and concrete examples.

Questions that threaten social norms

At the grocery store your inquisitive four-year-old asks why the woman behind you in line wears a scarf on her head, or why that man is in a wheelchair, or how come that mom and that baby have different color skin. Cultural-wide, people are questioning what kinds of things are appropriate to speak about in public. Even as we grow more comfortable talking about differences, the nuance and tact required to address such questions from a child can make any parent flush. The important thing to remember is that children are trying to understand their world. The fact that your child notices someone’s weight, disability, or race does not mean they are passing judgment; it means they are making observations and seeking help to understand what they see.

Our job as parents is to teach them respect and sincerity in their expression of curiosity. Explain to your child that God made all different kinds of people to reflect His image. In His creativity, He made people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities. If you don’t know the answer to your child’s question, consider asking the person who prompted it. Strangers are often happy to explain something about themselves that can lead to education and connection. If such a conversation does not seem timely or appropriate, quietly acknowledge your child’s question and then take time later to follow up more thoroughly.

Questions about private or sensitive topics

Kids are constantly connecting dots and looking for connections and they are rarely shy to expose their ignorance. “Where do babies come from?” or some version of this question often sets parents on edge. Equally challenging can be personal questions about information we’re not ready to divulge. “Why do you and Daddy lock your bedroom door?” can induce panic if we assume we need to tell our children all the details of our private intimacies. But you can answer truthfully by sharing, “Daddy and I need one-on-one time with each other because it helps our relationship. We lock the door so we can enjoy each other’s company without interruption.”

When older children ask about your experiences growing up, should you admit your rebellions, mistakes, and other past sins? Children crave guidance. The more honest we are about the realities and challenges of growing up, the more influence we will likely enjoy. Always take into account your child’s age and maturity level when discussing questions of a sexual or sensitive nature. And of course, it’s up to you to decide how much to share. But resist any temptation to fudge the truth or minimize the significance of significant things. Beth Moore says we are called to honesty with modesty in relationship and the same is true of our relationships with our children, especially depending on their age. Our kids deserve our integrity, and the more we share when they are young, the more prepared they will be to address the challenges of adulthood when they get there.

What is the most difficult question your child has ever asked you?