Best answers from a school and developmental psychologist, preschool teacher and mom
Answering Kids Questions about Difficult Topics
Stop talking above them – Much younger than parents think, children are paying attention and making some sense of the language around them. Beyond 18 months, children are learning approximately one new word per hour they are awake. They are sponges, assume they are listening.
Answer every question honest and small – When children ask a question, they are honestly looking for an answer. If one is not provided, they may make it a bigger issue or come up with their own answers that are often wrong. Giving small answers means finding age appropriate words and giving just enough to answer the question. When a child asks, “why did grandpa die?” They are likely not looking for a full medical history, and if you provide one you are adding stress. They are likely looking for the basic explanation, “grandpa was very old and his heart stopped working. The doctors tried to save him but they couldn’t.”
Let their questions be your guide – Occasionally, a child will be looking for a bigger answer or more detail. That child will have follow-up questions, or will want the full medical history. Continue to answer honest and small.
For some topics, decide on an age that you will bring it up if they don’t – There should be several honest discussions about sex and drugs before your child has to make decisions out in the world.
Couch your answers in reassurance – Support them through your answer by letting them know you are calm and they are safe. Sometimes reinforce the idea that they can ask you about anything.
With a MA in school psychology and a PhD in developmental psychology, I founded and work as a parent educator at Parenting Playgroups. Somewhere in there I trained in the Developmental Clinic at Children's NMC and in the public schools. I have two beautiful, funny children who make me practice what I preach most everyday.
View all posts by Dr. Rene Hackney