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Answer The Tough Questions

Concerned citizens gather on the dock as survivors arrives in Pangai on Tonga's Lifuka Island, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009, after a ferry carrying 117 passengers and crew sank around midnight Wednesday, northeast of the Tongan capital, Nuku'alofa. The number of people missing and feared dead after the Princess Ashika sank in Tonga rose Friday to more than 60 and could jump further, police said, as the prime minister called tragedy a "major disaster" for his tiny country. (AP Photo/Sustainable Coastlines, Emily Penn) ** EDITORIAL USE ONLY **
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Sorry Mom and Dad, all kids are going to ask tough questions.

"And whatever you think the little one won't ask will be the first thing off their lips!" says Parenting magazine's Denene Millner. And she knows what she's talking about - she has a 4-year old.

So instead of dreading the inevitable, think of this as an opportunity to figure out what's going on inside your little one's head. These stumpers typically begin when your child is in preschool. You can't avoid it, so you may as well be prepared. Here are some general things to keep in mind.

First, never answer with silence. This signals to your child that she has asked a bad question.

Second, keep your answers simple. Don't tell your child more than he needs to know. This of course will vary, based on your child's age.

Finally, never lie or make up an answer. This will only create more problems for you later when you're forced to correct yourself - you're bound to confuse your child in the process.

The following are some classic questions and Millner's answers:

Where Do Babies Come From?
Variations may include: How was I born? Or What does sex mean? or How do you make a baby?

Here's the good news for parents: questions like these are not veiled questions about sex. Instead, it's usually kids trying to figure out, literally, how they got out of Mommy's tummy. How in the world does that work? Also, kids are beginning to notice the difference between girls' and boys' bodies. Asking where babies come from is often a method for discerning how boys and girls wound up different.

However, you do need to figure out exactly what your child is trying to ask. It's OK to ask them a question right back. Something such as "What do you know about where you came from?" might be appropriate. If you tell kids something they already know, they'll tune you out; if you tell them too much they probably won't absorb it. Your best bet is to stick to simple facts: you grew inside my tummy or dad puts something called sperm inside mom to help make the baby grow.

The one thing you DON'T want to do is lie, Millner says. Stay away from the goofy stork story and other stories that may cause confusion later.

Are We Rich?
Variations may include: How much money do we have? and What does "We can't afford it" mean?

No matter what they say, questions about money can be uncomfortable. If an adult is asking things along these lines, he would clearly be concerned about financial stability or social status. But little kids don't even understand the difference between a penny and a $100 bill.

Basically, when a child asks a money-related question, he's trying to figure out if he's going to get whatever he's wanting (or needing) at the time.

If your kids ask for things you can't afford, give them a list and say these are things we can buy, these are things we can't buy.

"Divert, divert, divert," Denene says. "They are so easily diverted, it is not even funny - point them in another direction and you'll find they already forgot about that expensive toy."

Don't answer with generalities such as "We don't have that kind of money." That only raises unnecessary questions and concerns. Trying to explain what $20 signifies or reason with a child about something that's too expensive also won't make sense.

Are You Going To Die?
Kids will start asking about death once they witness it in their own lives - a pet dies or a friend's grandparent dies, for instance. All of these questions come down to one thing: your child's personal safety. You have to reassure her with facts, not promises you can't keep. Say, "There will always be somebody to take care of you." Not, "Mom's not going to die." Also, if the child actually knows the person who died, take the time to remember that person warmly with stories and photos; tell your child she can always talk to or think about that person, no matter what.

Remember that very young children/preschoolers still don't understand death completely. If the pet dog dies, don't try and comfort your child by saying that your family will get another dog. Your child may wonder if that means mom and dad would get a new boy if he died himself.

Religion
Children - especially during this patriotic time - are constantly hearing "God bless America" and "God bless you." Youngsters don't want a big existential answer; they are simply looking for a definition to a word that keeps coming up. What is God? It doesn't matter what religion your child is being raised in, he or she is going to hear the word "God" a lot.

However, this doesn't mean that God can't carry some spiritual weight with kids. Millner points out that questions about God or religion often signifies the beginning of empathy in a child.

How you answer these questions, however, does depend on what you believe. You can take your answers in a lot of directions and you simply have to decide what feels good to you. This is definitely a place to keep your answers as simple as possible.

"Parenting" suggests basic answers such as "God watches over us" or "God is something you feel, not see." If you don't believe in God you might say that lots of people do believe but you don't always have to agree with the majority. Two-religion households should simply tell young kids they are getting the best of both worlds.