August 13, 2012

Why do Bums do Farts? Thoughts on Answering Children's Questions

‘Why do bums do farts?’
from my 3 year old son. 
After I’d finished mentally giggling, I answered …
‘as you digest food in your stomach (pointing) and intestines it creates gas that needs to come out of your body.’
It makes a great story, but it was a moment that got me thinking about the way that I answer children’s questions.  In my supermum moments, when everything comes together perfectly, these are some of the things I like to make sure I do when answering my kid’s questions.

I like to use the correct names for things.  For example, when I answered my son’s question above, I used the word digest.  This builds my son’s vocabulary.  It also helps avoid confusion and misinterpretation, as my son builds his understanding of concepts.  If my son wants to know more about the word digest, he will ask.

I try to answer only what I was asked.  In my example, I didn’t elaborate on the meaning of digest, or intestines (and my son didn’t ask).  Children will ask more questions if they want more information.  Otherwise, I’ve told them what they wanted to know and they now need to reflect on that information (or forget about it) as they please.  I often find that they will come back with another question about the answer I gave in an hour or two, or sometimes a day or two.

I try not to always have all the answers.  For my 3 year old and the question above, I thought the best approach was just to answer.  If my son was older, or it had been a topic that I knew he had a great interest in, instead of answering the question, I might have asked him ‘how could we find out?’ or ‘what do you think?’.  If there is someone nearby who is likely to give a better, more knowledgeable answer, I encourage my children to ask them.  Learning how to find the answers to your questions and information that you want or need is a life skill that is important for children to practise.

Allowing your children to ask any and all questions can lead to some interesting discussions.  It is also a great way to find out what they know, what they are thinking about and what they are interested in. 

What questions have your children been asking lately?  What strategies do you have for answering your children’s questions?

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