The definition of family and community is changing. The nature of travel and adventure and hobbies are changing. Children are still asking the best questions. They are asking the simplest and hardest questions. They are asking why they have to wear a mask and why they can’t play on playgrounds and why they can’t go to school or why school started and was cancelled again. Parents everywhere would probably prefer to explain where babies come from rather than try and tackle these.
Here’s to the age old question: what do we do when kids ask the tough questions and how do we provide space for it?
Take the Long Way Home
Have a regular time of quiet, openness as a family. You could take the long way home, have a family night, a simple time where nothing much is expected from anyone. Children have a keen sense of what’s going on around them (despite what they’ll have you believe about the Legos on the floor) and often hold the toughest questions for the Worst Possible Moment or the quietest and unexpected one. By having these regular intervals of quietness, kids will have the chance to think through and process their questions. It won’t stop them from asking you All The Other Times but it will give you a space to fall back on.
If they ask you a question and you can’t answer it in the moment, you’ll be able to say, ‘Good question. How about I answer that on our walk later?’
One of the most important things we can do to support a child’s development is to try to understand the emotion behind the question. Are they sad? Angry? Confused? Or just plain curious? It’s okay to ask them too. It’s okay to ask ‘Does not playing on the playground make you sad? Do the face masks make you feel uncomfortable?’ Often children need help identifying their emotions. To be honest, most adults do as well.
Once you understand the emotion, validate it. It’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to be uncomfortable. This helps them feel heard and understood.
Honesty is More Important Than Having the ‘Right’ Answer
When a child asks a question, the best thing we can do is give them an honest but age-appropriate answer. Meaning, when a five year old asks about playgrounds, it’s a great time for a lesson on germs and washing hands and being a part of the solution.
It can be that the best answer is ‘I don’t know.’ Despite what children might think sometimes, we’re not all-knowing gods or superheros. It’s okay for us not to know and it’s okay to tell children that.
Your honesty and vulnerability, however difficult, teaches them what honesty and vulnerability looks like on their part. These two qualities will always be more important that having the ‘Right’ answer.
Empathy, honesty, and vulnerability can get you through just about anything and that includes whatever tough and trying questions someone might ask you. Take the long way home, breathe deep, and be with them. More often than not, that will be enough.