Kids love to ask questions. It’s a characteristic that I find both wonderful and exhausting. If you’ve ever spent any time with a child over the age of two, you’ve likely heard the words “why” and “how” more than a few times. My four year old asks, conservatively, 100 questions in any given day. Most are the nagging “…but why can’t I?”, but sometimes he throws me a curveball. Some of his questions totally stop me in my tracks and make me think…hard. In the past couple of months, he’s asked “How do babies get out of their mothers?”, “Where did the earth come from?”, “Where do dead dogs go?”, and “Where did people come from?”. My brain almost exploded a few times.
When I was simply teaching other people’s young children, these questions were easily answered with my favorite stock phrase, “Hmm…that’s a tough question. Why don’t you ask a grown up at home about that one tonight?”. The truth is, each family handles these answers differently. Religious beliefs, how much you’re ready to share with your child, and the child’s own individual ability to understand abstract concepts are all factors in how to best respond.
But what happens when, suddenly, I am the grown up at home?! Gasp!
I’ve been thinking a lot about what to say when my son asks a question that may well be the topic of an upper level biology/theology/anthropology course. What has worked so far has been giving out tiny bits of information and following his lead on when to stop. I firmly believe in giving him the facts, but I don’t want to scare him with things he might not be ready to hear. To further complicate things, our family also attends church and has our own set of religious beliefs, and I want to make sure he’s aware of what we believe as a family. Do you see why my brain almost exploded?
So for now, I’m offering short truths and elaborating as much as he seems to want me to. We’ve talked about tough topics such as death in a matter-of-fact, simple way: everything lives, then dies, and when things die, we bury them in the ground. We talked about how bodies go in the earth and spirits go to heaven. Even when things die, they live on in our minds as memories. Some things, like goldfish and hamsters, live for a shorter time, but people usually live for a very long time. For now, that’s where the story ends. I’m quickly discovering, though, that being “the grown up at home” isn’t as easy as I once thought!