Originally posted May 19, 2009
You just never know when your kid will come out with one of
those marvelous questions guaranteed to make your heart do a little
jig. The last time it happened to me we were out to dinner.
After being greeted by our server we were led to our
table. The greeting lasted five seconds, tops, but it made
quite an impression on my eight-year-old.
"Mommy, is that a boy or a girl?" Holly whispered, after our
server left to retrieve a pitcher of water.
"You know what? You're very observant," I replied, as my
ten-year-old son, Noah, listened in. "In fact," I admitted,
"I had the very same question the first time I met
Eve.* I learned that Eve is a man who wants to be a
woman," I simply explained. I'd been enlightened by a friend
of Eve's, and I wanted my kids to understand that I wasn't simply
assuming that Eve was a transgendered individual (someone assigned
a sex, usually at birth and based on his genitals, who feels that
this is a false or incomplete description of himself so he
identifies himself with the opposite gender).
Apparently satisfied with my explanation, Holly shrugged and
turned her attention to her menu and made sure that I understood
that she wanted the green soda this time. I did ask the kids
if they had any other questions. They didn't, so I left the
subject alone, for now. I knew the wheels were still
turning, but they were ready to move on. I've learned that
children seem to require time to digest information, a few bits at
Many parents wonder how to recognize that their child is ready
for certain information. Simply put, if he's curious enough
to ask for it, he's ready. A good rule of thumb is to answer
the actual question at hand, dispensing a few details at a time so
he can absorb them. Your kid's eyes glazing over? This
is a strong clue that you're heading into "TMI (too much
information) territory," as Noah likes to put it, so further
discussion should be tabled for a while.
Some parents believe that no time is a good time to discuss
certain subjects they consider taboo, however. You may be
able to redirect a child's attention temporarily, but be aware of
the downside of putting off these discussions for too long or
refusing to address them at all. After all, whose voice do
you want him to hear? He's bound to get his questions
answered one way or another. If your voice is there in the
mix your child will stand a much better chance of being
well-informed, confident about how to handle sticky situations,
and, in some cases, safer. This is especially true when it
comes to topics like substance use and sexuality, which have
relevance way before kids hit Middle School, these days.
Before you can take a stand on any issue or offer any guidance
to your kids, however, you need to get your own questions
I've found that reference librarians are fabulous resources for
materials on any subject about which your kids may conjure
questions, but make sure you read the books before deciding which
ones to share with your kids. You'll want to make sure the
authors' values jive with yours and that you don't expose your kids
to details you or they aren't ready to delve into yet.
I come from the 'knowledge is power' school of thought when it
comes to furnishing kids with information, and believe that the
same principle applies to parenting. Once you're armed with
information, your kids' barrage of questions will feel less like
bullets and more like opportunities to appreciate and encourage
their burgeoning curiosity about their bodies, other people and the
fascinating world in which they live. These are precious
moments when you get to contribute to the spiritual and emotional
growth of your children
* Name changed for privacy reasons.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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