By Guest Blogger Michelle Bostian, LCSW
We all value honesty and we want so much to instill this in our children. But what do we do when the questions they ask back us into a corner? “Mommy, why did you say on the phone you were sick last week?” “How exactly does a baby get out of the mommy’s tummy?” “On the news the man said someone was raped, what is “raped”?”
We have all heard questions we wish children didn’t have to ask and we didn’t have to answer. We feel a sense of internal conflict in our desires to model a value in honesty that we hold so dear, and yet protect our children from knowledge that they may not be developmentally ready to fully understand. All parents have to make their own decisions around this and there is really more than one way to do it right. I believe it is important to first consider your child’s social and emotional development in considering exactly how to answer the question. Second think about what it is they really want to know. Sometimes a minimal answer is all they need and then they move on to something else.
It may be easier to understand what I’m getting at through some examples:
• “Why did you say you were sick last week?” Could be answered with: “You are right, I wasn’t really sick, and yet I said I was. I can explain this a bit better when your are older, but what I can tell you now is that I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.” You might even then have a conversation with your child about some other ways to respond when put in an uncomfortable situation where you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. It’s even okay to admit you aren’t perfect and that next time you will try harder to be both completely honest and yet sensitive at the same time.
• “How exactly does a baby get out of the mommy’s tummy?” Could be answered with: “Well, the mommy goes to the hospital and the doctor helps get the baby out.” Then here’s the trick……change the subject with something that will grab their interest: “I remember when you were born you had dark curly hair! Did you know you were the first baby in the family that didn’t like a pacifier? A lot of mom’s really have a hard time getting their babies to give up a pacie, but not you. You never needed one.” Etc. etc.
• “On the news the man said someone was raped, what is “raped”?” Could be responded with: “Raped is a word that only adults use. It means when someone is really mean to someone else. It’s kind of like beating someone up.” Then change the subject, “You know what else I heard on the news? It might snow again next week! Can you believe it? Remember when you went down the hill on your orange sled and ran into the bush! That was soooo funny!” etc.
So use the quick honest response in words they understand and then change the subject in a relaxed upbeat manner. You are modeling the honesty you hope to instill and yet still protecting them from information you are not yet ready to fully explain or that you know may be too painful for them to really comprehend. If your children persist and keep going back to the original question they may be ready for more information. If they persist and yet you KNOW they are not ready for the whole story, simply tell them the truth: “Yes, raped is more than just being beat up. But as I said, it is a word adult’s use and I will explain it to you when you are older. For now, what I have explained is all I’m going to say about it. I’m so glad you ask me tough questions. I love you!” This models the honesty you hope to instill and maintains an important boundary between adult and child, which children need just as much. Kids are usually satisfied with simple honest answers.
One time my daughter asked me about Santa Clause and I answered, “Ummm, it’s kinda magical, the whole Santa thing, and I don’t want to tell you about it because then it wouldn’t be magical anymore.” Sometimes that’s all you need. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself. They are just children with questions, and they really don’t want a dissertation any more than you want to give one!