Recently I was eating breakfast with my four-year-old son. The house was relatively quiet while everyone else was still sleeping. I was just starting to consume my first mug of liquid gold, also known as coffee, when my son looks over at me and says, “Dad, can I ask you a question?”
My response was, “Of course you can,” not knowing what was coming next.
“Is infinity a number?”
What? My un-caffeinated brain slowly tried to register the fact that my four-year-old son just asked a relatively deep question about complex math concepts.
There’s not an easy answer to this question. For the math geeks in the audience, technically the answer is no, it is more of a mathematical concept, but it’s not easy to explain. Infinity expresses a concept of quantity although not a concrete quantity as most number represent. So, it’s a bit tough to answer to a four-year-old, especially at 7 a.m. with barely any caffeine consumed.
So how do I proceed answering this when there isn’t a straight answer? I know that as my children grow older, I’m going to be faced with many questions much tougher than this one.
Some of the tough questions that are probably going to come up as a parent:
– What is sex?
– Am I safe at school?
– Why do some people want to hurt us?
– Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?
We as parents strive to provide our children with all the answers to how to navigate the world. But we personally have not seen of faced every kind of adversity or problem. Our children are growing up in a world that will pose them different challenges than we ever faced. Kids also have access to more news, info, than ever before. They literally have the potential to be exposed to anything when they have mobile devices with the internet at their disposal.
The way we answer these hard questions and the conversations they evoke are some of the best opportunities we must prepare our kids for the real world. We often are forced to navigate the gray area in life since not everything is black and white.
Sometimes as parents we’re tempted to answer our children’s questions quickly and move on. Our children ask questions in all different places and times. They’ll ask while we’re making dinner, getting ready for bed, or changing a sibling’s diaper.
Our children can incessantly ask questions that become extremely annoying. But asking good questions, especially hard ones to answer often being one of the most important skills we can develop in life. The best solutions, inventions, and answers always start with a great question that may not at first have a clear answer. Personal growth comes through asking good questions about yourself and your own potential ability.
To deal with these parenting moments right, we need to slow down and make sure we acknowledge each question the right way.
Find out why they asked the question
It’s important to understand why your child is asking the question. Sometimes they’re curious and other times they may just be repeating they heard someone else ask. Understanding the why will help you know how to answer the question or at least how much detail to go into.
Be a good listener
Make sure you listen to your child and pay attention to their body language and mood when they’re asking the question. Often what they say or ask as you discuss the subject may tell you more about their understanding of the topic that you were initially aware.
Make time for the conversation
Sometimes the questions warrant us to stop what we’re doing and answer the question right away. Other times we may be too busy or distracted to give the conversation the appropriate attention. So, don’t forget about but come back to it later when you have the time available.
Lying sets a bad example, could confuse the child when they discover the truth, and could break their trust of you. Any temptation to avoid an uncomfortable situation or show your lack of knowledge is not an excuse to lie.
Be willing to say I don’t know.
We never expect our children to know everything in their lives so why should we pretend that we do?
Keep the conversation going
Sometimes we don’t have the time to answer the question or even think about the best way to reply. So be willing to start the conversation now but come back to it again later. You may want to talk with your spouse, think about how to answer, or even do some research before answering the question completely. You could also take the opportunity to do some research with your child to explore the topic and discuss it together.
Be confident and comfortable
Be confident and comfortable, especially in not knowing. Show your kids that’s OK to not know and you’re comfortable with that. Youngsters often build anxiety around what they don’t know or haven’t experienced and we need to lead by example by showing them that it’s OK to not know everything or experience everything.
So, as parents, we need to encourage them to ask questions, and we need to be willing to honestly explore the answers with them.