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, but it made quite an impression on my 8-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 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’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 and better identifies with the opposite gender).
Apparently satisfied with my explanation, Holly shrugged, 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. My children are 8 and 10, so my simple explanation sufficed.
Answer their questions
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," so further discussion should be tabled until the next opportunity shows up.
Some parents, however, believe no time is a good time to discuss certain subjects they consider taboo. 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 or her to hear? Your child is bound to get 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 answered.
Where to get information
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.
* Name changed for privacy.
Submit YOUR QUESTIONS
Got a question or concern you’d like me to address? Nothing is off limits. If you’re a parent and it’s on your mind, chances are you’re not alone. Don’t suffer the wonders. Send questions to [email protected].
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 I believe 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.
If you’re feeling weak-in-the-knees about the ‘birds and the bees’ and need some support when it’s time for ‘the talk,’ refer to my column on the subject (it can also be found on my blog on ChicagoParent.com.) My column addressing underage drinking (and consequences to parents) can also be found there.
Jennifer DuBose is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia. She has been a clinical member of The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy since 1995 and is a featured blogger at ChicagoParent.com.
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