I have an amazing framework to share with you. It's how to answer any difficult question. Any question! These are some steps that I recommend that parents consider when they get stumped by a question. Even when your child asks something that just floors you. In these moments you might feel very surprised, shocked, concerned, or scared. There's a lot of different feelings that can come up for us when our children are asking questions. It can even inhibit us from having certain conversations because we're fearful of some of the difficult or tough questions children may ask.
I’ve created a simple framework that parents can use when they find themselves answering a difficult question. Whether it’s a question about sexuality, violence, a belief, or a question about something that you've experienced. Anything that may freak you out.
I'm going to walk you step by step through a simple strategy. Are you ready to feel more empowered and certain talking to your children? Now let’s dive in!
Step 1 - Have a Poker Face!
Step one is you want to have a poker face. Let's say your child asks you a question. For example, "Hey, mom, dad. What's a condom?" You're like, "What? Where did this question come from? Why are you asking me in the line of the grocery store? This isn't the right time for this question." Your mind could go in a million different places because you might feel concerned or scared. You might be wondering where in the world did this question come from? All of those are normal feelings, but the most important thing I want you to consider and to practice is to have what I'm calling a poker face. But it's really not just your face.
Be mindful and aware of your body language and your expression. How is your face changing? Do your eyebrows go up wondering where did this question come from? Does your tone and your pitch of your voice change or do you sound concerned? What sort of expressions are you showing from your body language and your tone?
Because those are very, very powerful. If you aren’t careful, and if you're not aware of how you sound or how your face is looking when you get this difficult question, you could shut down communication immediately between your child and yourself. They might learn that you're not the person to ask questions to if you don't get this down. So practice having a cool, calm, and collected reaction to any question. That's step one.
Step 2 - Check in with Your Feelings
Step 2 is to check in with your feelings. How are you feeling? Are you freaked out? Are you upset? Are you concerned? Are you scared? Are you embarrassed? Learn to recognize what different feelings look like for you and get in touch with your feelings. This will help you decide whether you're going to answer this question now or a little bit later. If you're having strong feelings around the question, this isn't a question you want to answer that moment. If you're really freaking out, are scared or concerned, you might need to buy a little time to think more about how you want to respond. That is okay to do! It’s actually important for you to do. Always remember to take a moment to check in with your feelings and what's going on with you before answering any difficult question.
If you ever “mess up” and explode at your child, you can always go back and fix it. Try this, explain how you were feeling when your child asked the question and why you reacted the way you did. Apologize, then tell them what you would like them to know.
This will teach your child something else very valuable. To own their feelings and how to apologize. Both of which are important life and communication skills to have. Never feel like it is too late to talk with your children. It’s better late then not at all. You’ve got this!
Step 3 - Praise the Question
Next you’ll want to praise the question. You want your children to always come to you with questions, even if they are bizarre or there's a lot of them. At the end of the day, I think that's what all parents want. They want their children to come to them versus going to Mr. Google every time they have a question. Who knows what they'll learn online.
In my experience, that's been what all parents really want, right? I bet that you do too. In order to accomplish that, I think it's important that we praise our children for asking questions. Even if you're not sure what you're going to say yet, you can say, "Wow. That's a really interesting question. I'm so glad that you asked me and love when you come to me with your questions.”
Wouldn’t both saying that and hearing that feel good? Praise makes your child feel like they had a good question. Everybody loves to have a good question. So be sure to take a moment to praise your child for their questions.
Step 4 - Get the 411
The next step is you might need some more information before you answer. This is usually a good way to gauge how much you're going to be saying. So, step number four is to get the 411. Get some information.
It could sound like this, ”Wow, that's a great question, sweetheart. What do you think that is?" Or "What makes you ask that?" Ask what they think. This is important! I can't tell you how many times a parent gets a question and they have some big, huge, long conversation that they didn't really need to have.
Like in the comic above, the child wanted to know their heritage, not the birds and the bees talk. The lesson here is that sometimes we need to stop for a moment and ask what is the real question. I think we dive in a little too quickly without having that information at times. Other times, you may need a little background in order to answer the question to be clear on the context. Where did they see it or hear it? Or where did the question come from? Did they learn it from a movie? Did somebody use that word at school? Where's the source? I think when context is in question that is valuable to find out before you answer.
Step 5 - Pause
Step number five is stop and pause for a moment. It's okay to pause. You may want to ask for some time before you answer. If you're having a lot of feelings, I think it's important to answer that question a little bit later. You could say to your child, “I want to talk to you about this, but now's not the right time. Before you go to bed you can ask me that question again and we'll talk about it then, okay?"
Don’t be afraid to schedule a time to talk about it a little later. This will help children learn when is a good time to ask questions.
Plus, you can freak out, call your best friend, or your partner to talk it out. Say, "Hey, have you ever had this question? I don't know what to say. I'm a little freaked out. What would you say?" Plus you just bought yourself some time to help you have that poker face still. This will allow you to respond to your child's question instead of reacting to it. This is Gold!!
Step 6 - Keep it Simple
Now, if you're NOT having a ton of feelings I would recommend answering simply. I’m talking just a few short sentences. Try saying something like this, "That's an interesting question. What makes you ask that question? (watch your tone!). Well that means …..” Keep it short and sweet. Then be quiet for a second and listen for what your child has to say.
At this point, usually one of two things are going to happen. Either, one, your child's going to be totally satisfied with the answer and say, "Oh, okay." They might run off and play or do something else or whatever. That's totally great and you gave them a short, simple answer. That was enough for them at that time. That's fantastic. Sometimes, if it wasn't enough, if it was maybe too simple, your child will likely have another question.
What’s so important is please, please don't lie. It's better to be simple than to lie. This is so important because later on, if your child finds out, "Hey, that wasn't true. They lied to me." Then you are not a credible person to go to with questions. They won't go to you anymore. I know you don't want that. Parents, you DON’T want that! I promise you. You want your children always coming to you and to feel like they can talk to you about anything.
Step 7 - Keep the Answer Short & Sweet, Open & Honest
Step 7 is to keep your answers short and sweet, as well as open and honest. This is so important. Don’t over explain things. If you didn’t share enough information children typically respond with another follow up question.
When children ask questions it is a natural teachable moment. A teachable moment is a time you get to talk about something important with your children. For example, let’s say you are watching the news and there is a headline about a sexual harassment case, this is a time you can discuss what sexual harassment, means, give an example, and talk about why its not okay. Sometimes parents simply change the channel instead of broach this awkward conversation. As children get older don’t avoid these types of conversations. Moments like these happen often if you keep an eye out for them.
Teachable moments can also be created. Parents need to be increasingly open with their children as they get older. Be honest about mistakes you have made, as well as share stories and lessons you have learned about life.
The beauty of children asking questions is it gives parents a golden opportunity to instill values and/or an expectations of their behavior as well. Which takes us to our next step.
Step 8 - Set Clear Expectations of Behavior
You want to set be sure to set clear expectations of your child’s behavior. Let’s say your child uses a word that is inappropriate. Maybe they used a slang word that they heard, and you don't want them using it. It's inappropriate. It's a bad word or it's a derogatory word. Then I think you can set an expectation like this, "Look, some people use that word, but I would really like for you not to. In our house, I don't think it's appropriate because of this reason." Set an expectation of behavior and explain why you feel the way you do. Don't just say, "Because I said so.” I remember my parents telling me that on more than one occasion.
"Because I said so."
It's so frustrating when you hear that. Do your best to stay away from that phrase. It's so easy and I know sometimes we lose our patience and we just say it. But do your best to not, if you can, instead set some clear expectations of how you would like your child to behave or what you believe around that topic and question. This is your chance to do that after you answer simply.
(Optional) Step 9 - Practice Role Playing “What if” Scenarios
Now, the last thing you can do if you want to, is to actually role play with your child. Have them practice a scenario. Let's say your child's a little bit older and they ask about condoms. You might want to role play with your child. Say, "What do you think someone should do if they are in a relationship and they're thinking about having sex and they need a condom? What do you think they should do in that situation?" You can utilize 'what if' scenarios. It is great to role play with your children. Act out some of the challenges they might face in certain situations.
Let's try another example. Let's say your child is being bullied or pushed around at school. Someone's being mean to them. You can role play with them about how they might respond or react. You can pretend you're them for a moment and what you might say. Then let them try. There's a lot of opportunity in these difficult questions to have these really deep and meaningful conversations with our children. When they're appropriate and when we're ready that door can be open for us.
These 9 steps can help you get through most difficult questions and help you feel more calm and collected. They can help you stop and listen. Take a moment to consider what you might say, or if you need more time to get back with your child because you're having a lot of feelings. Practice this framework on an easy question first. Then when you get to the difficult ones, it makes it that much easier to handle.
If you try this, I want to hear all about it. Write your questions or comments below the video. Parenting is a challenging job, but it's worth it and you can handle it. I'll be here to support you in any way I can. Remember you’ve got this! Thank you for listening and remember to keep talkin’!
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