On Answering Tough Questions

Child asking question in class

First, a little thank you note: to those of you who have been patient with me during the last year, in which my posts were scarce, thank you for not giving up on me. Hopefully now that my Ph.D. is done (yay!), I’ll have more time for the fun stuff—like writing this blog J

My son is well into what I call the “tough questions stage”. If you ever spent an hour with an early primary school child, you know what I mean. A couple of highlights are, “Mommy, where was I before I was in your tummy?”, “How do we know what happened before ALL the people were born?”, and “How heavy is the moon?”

The thing about these questions is that they are tough to answer. My husband and I consider ourselves fairly educated people, but how do you explain mass or pre-history to a 5-year-old? I know I’m not alone in this: a survey in 2012 commissioned by the Big Bang Science Fair showed that 65% of parents said they were puzzled by their kids’ science questions. A more recent survey, done by the “Read On. Get On.” project found that while half of the parents look up the answer together with their children, about a quarter of them are “creative with the truth”, that is, they make stuff up. Which I completely get, by the way; it’s really hard to tackle “why is the sky blue?” when you are in the grocery store checkout queue. However, it’s important to remember that children are more likely to ask reliable sources than unreliable sources, so if you want to be the one they come to with their questions later on, you should think twice before you get “creative with the truth”. Because the day they are introduced to Google your number will be up.

To me, the most important thing is not to make the children feel that it’s somehow wrong to ask questions. Asking questions and testing our ideas about the world is a big part of how we learn. Sometimes children’s questions can be tiring, especially towards the end of the day when you have already answered the previous ten. Sometimes, they are downright annoying (I don’t know nor do I care about what happens to Bob if he becomes Minion of the Year). But, instead of making something up or telling them I don’t have time to answer, I try to tell my kids something like: “that’s an excellent question, but I don’t know the answer and I’m making dinner right now, so can we look it up tomorrow?” (by then, trust me, the less critical questions will be forgotten).

What do you do when your child (or any child) asks you a question you don’t know the answer to? What is the funniest question a child ever asked you?

@2015 - Gal Podjarny