“Mom, what’s this?”
I was holding an empty box of tampons, on my way to the recycle bin, when my daughter stopped me.
“What are you holding?”
I was surprised and not ready for that question. What should I say?
Surprising or embarrassing questions - I assume it happened to all of us. That moment when your child looks at you with those big curious eyes and asks:
“Dad, what is sex?”
“Mom, what is a tampon?”
“Why do I have just a mom/dad?”
“What are drugs?”
Usually, we choke for a second, trying to overcome the embarrassment. Then, we try really hard to come up with the right answer. So, before the next question hits you, here are some things to remember:
Those questions will always appear when we are not ready - either the time or the place isn’t appropriate or we simply didn’t anticipate that question when our kid is so young (it always seems that they are too young for that kind of question :-) ).
Kids ask because they really want to know - they are simply curious. Most of the time they are not aware of the emotional baggage attached to their question. They just heard or encountered a word, or a phrase and they want to find out more about it.
They will find an answer - and that’s not necessarily good. If we won’t be there to answer, they’ll find it someplace else: friends, google, or tell themselves a story that will ease their mind. The problem is that it won’t necessarily be the right answer, or not age-appropriate, or not aligned with our agenda.
So, what can we do? How can we make sure we support our kids with the right information and handle our embarrassment?
Plan ahead - each of us has a touchy subject. One that we would be glad not to face questions about. That’s exactly the reason why we should be prepared. Read about it, consult with a professional, look for different ideas on how to present the subject, and plan the answer we would like to offer our child. It should be age-appropriate and based on facts (don’t tell them about the birds and the bees, they’ll figure it out pretty fast). In addition, it should be in your own words so it will sound natural when spoken.
Ask back - when the child presents a question. Start by asking back: “why do you ask?”, “where did you hear about it?”, “what do you already know?”. The child’s answers help us to understand how much information we should provide and the level of it.
Provide an answer - as simple as that. No drama. If it’s too hard for you at that moment you can ask to answer it later (After dinner or tomorrow morning). But make sure to do it.
If it’s easier for your partner to lead the conversation allow him/her.
Remember, it’s ok to say that you are embarrassed, it’s ok to share your feelings. It’s a wonderful model for your kids. They might feel the same.
As parents, we should keep in mind that our kids are exposed to information from a very young age. There’s no question if they’ll find it. It’s just a question of when. One of our main responsibilities is to be there for them, answer questions, and provide clear true, and age-appropriate information.
If we panic and dodge their questions they won’t stop asking but they’ll stop asking us and in a world of social media and fake news, we can never know which answer they’ll get.
It’s our responsibility to take a deep breath, set aside the difficulties and embarrassment, and answer the question. And That’s exactly what I did. Since I already knew what my daughter knows about the women’s body and what is the meaning of the word “period”, I skipped the need to ask her questions back. I explained in very simple words what is a tampon and what other options a girl has to use during her period.
By doing that I made sure that my daughter got the exact answer I wanted her to get and increased the chances that the next time she’ll have a question she will come straight to me.
Lihi Netzer - Parent Coach, Parent Educator, and a life coach for teenagers.