Unfortunately, embarrassing questions are synonymous with young kids, but don’t panic. Here’s MM’s guide to answering your child’s questions clearly and simply…
It’s the moment every parent dreads: the moment when your young child turns to you and, instead of asking if they can have a biscuit or a sweet, simply asks ‘Mummy, how are babies made?’
That’s only one version, of course. At that age there are so many questions that your child can ask that will have you red to your earlobes and searching everywhere for a pile of sand into which you can happily stick your head!
I still vividly remember one major family dinner a few years ago when a seven-year-old niece, who’d been given an American ‘eight ball’ for Christmas, decided during a lull in the conversation to ask the ball if she’d have a baby by the time she was fourteen, shook the ball and proudly announced ‘yes’. I could almost hear the grass growing outside such was the silence in the room….
Embarrassing questions usually start when your child is about four and is in preschool or nursery. By this age she will have worked out the basics about her body, ie, the fact that boys have an extra little ‘bit’ than girls and so the questions begin. Once she starts school, the number of questions only increases, mainly as a result of the fact that she’s now exposed to loads of opinions, ideas and misconceptions from kids her own age and those who are older. She’ll also be ready now for slightly more sophisticated answers to her questions about sexuality – and, unfortunately for Mummy and Daddy – won’t be too embarrassed to ask the relevant questions!
How to react
If your child decides to ask you a question that you find a little embarrassing, try and remain calm and relaxed. It’s best to be as matter of fact as possible so that she doesn’t get the message that talking to you about sex – or any other tricky subject – is either embarrassing or taboo. Take advantage of questions that come up when you’re both at ease – in the family room while you’re watching a video, for example, or at bath time, or during those quiet moments when you’re tucking her into bed.
The car is also a great place to talk, since having to keep your eyes on the road allows you to avoid eye contact, which may help you stay more relaxed.
Secondly, keep it simple. At this age, the best answers are short and uncomplicated. ‘How are babies made?’, for example, only requires an answer such as ‘well it’s an amazing thing. A seed from the daddy and an egg from the mummy join together in the mum’s tummy and that’s where baby grows – in a special sack there called the womb’. You don’t want to sound like a doctor, but it is important that you use the correct words for the body parts and so you should say penis and vagina rather than wee-wee or pee-pee. Again, this helps to lessen any sense that sexual topics are off limits or embarrassing.
You never know, of course, when the embarrassing questions are going to pop up, so be prepared for your five year old deciding that a quiet moment in the middle of a family get together is the perfect opportunity to ask when her auntie’s baby is going to come out of her tummy – and even more embarrassingly – how! Even if she does create an embarrassing situation for you, however, try not to put her off asking you questions. The adults who will be there will all have heard it before and they won’t be embarrassed, so your priority is to make your child feel that she can talk to you about anything. Your willingness to talk honestly with her will be an ongoing process that will help her to steer her way through the difficulties of adolescence and beyond.
Once you’ve given your child an answer, check that they’re satisfied with it by simply asking, ‘Is that OK?’ and see how they react. If they say ‘yes’ and carry on with whatever they were doing, that’s fine. Simply move on. But, if they’re still looking dubious or unsure, then ask if they’d like to ask anything else.
Potential questions – and suggestions for answers!
‘Where did I come from?’
This old chestnut is probably one of the first questions any child asks and is particularly likely to happen if you’re pregnant with your second child. Be honest – within reason – and just say ‘you were made in mummy’s tummy and you stayed in there to be safe until it was time for you to be born.’
‘What is sex?’
A very young child is most likely to ask this question if she has seen or heard something from the TV or an older child. Don’t shy away from the question, but remember that she’s still too young to be able to understand details. One suggestion is to tell her that sex is a kind of cuddling that mummies and daddies do to show each other how much they love each other. Sometimes mummies and daddies can make a baby when they have sex.’
‘Why’s that man so fat?’
At a very young age, children are very quick to spot anyone who doesn’t seem to conform to ‘the norm’ and, for that reason, will be quick to ask why someone is particularly heavy, or why someone only has one arm. The positive side of this is that it’s good for kids to realise that people’s bodies are different and that some people also have a disability, so remember to keep your answers simple. Simply tell her that people come in different shapes and sizes.
‘Am I going to die?’
Questions about dying will be perfectly for a very young child who loses a grandparent or other close relative at an early age, but even kids, who don’t experience death, will probably hear about death from the TV or another medium, so it’s imperative that you answer the question in such a way that she doesn’t worry or fret. ‘Yes, everybody will eventually die but you won’t for a very long time’ is enough for a child of this age.
‘Mummy, why does daddy have a winkie?’
Simple. ‘Ask your daddy!’