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Answering Tough Questions
Authors: Jessica Dunn with Judith A. Myers-Walls, Ph.D., CFLE

Children learn about sexuality in many ways and in many situations. One way is by asking questions. Some questions about sexuality are tough to answer. It helps if adults are open to children’s questions, though. They can help children be comfortable talking about sexuality. This section offers ideas about what to do when tough questions arise.

It is helpful to find out what the parents have already taught their child. Ask what terms they use in describing sexuality. That information can be part of an enrollment form, or you might discuss it when you share your sexuality education policy with the parents. You should tell parents about discussions you have with their children about sexuality. This way, parents will know what you have done and can follow up on the discussion.

Answering children’s questions about sexuality can be difficult, even if you have already talked with their parents. It is helpful to first ask the child, “What do you think?” This will help you get an idea of what the child already knows and why he or she is asking.

For example, a 3-year-old child might ask, “Where do babies come from?” If you then ask, “What do you think?” the child might answer, “from Mommy’s tummy.” That answer is basically appropriate for her age. Other 3-year-olds may believe that children are left on the doorstep or dropped from a stork in the sky. In those cases, you could say, “There is a special place inside a mother where a baby grows.”

It is important to answer a question honestly and at the level of the child. A 12-year-old will need a more complete answer than a 4-year-old. An older child who asks about babies may need help understanding the process of birth. As a child grows older, it is good to answer in more detail.

Here is a process to follow when children ask difficult questions:

What do they know?
   Ask the child how he would answer his own question. Find out what he already knows about sexuality. Give the child
   some additional information, but answer at the child’s level.

Clarify the question.
   Find out what led the child to ask the question. Make sure you understand the question before beginning an answer.
   Children might ask, “Where did I come from?”  Some children might want to know how babies are born. Others may just
   want to know at which hospital they were born or in what city they used to live.

Answer the question in a simple way.
   Try to keep answers short and simple. Children usually ask exactly what they want to know. Often, they want a simple
   answer and not a long explanation. They might ask more questions if they are not satisfied. Expect more questions, and
   keep answering with short explanations.

Be honest.
   Tell children what you know about the questions they ask. Avoid talking about storks or cabbage patches. It is not helpful
   just to say that babies are “gifts.” That can be confusing. If you do not know the answer to a question a child has asked,
   you could look it up. Sometimes you may want to pass the question on to the parents.

Use the correct terms.
   Use the correct words for body parts so the child does not become confused. You may want to encourage parents to do
   this, too. Children should know the correct names for all sexual body parts by age 5.

Let sexuality be a normal part of life.
   Don’t whisper or change your facial expression when you talk about sexuality. Let children know that these words are
   normal and appropriate. It helps when you say words like penis, vulva, vagina, birth canal, and sex as you do any other
   words. If you are not used to saying these words, it may help to practice saying them to yourself in private or to a mirror.
   This might help you be more comfortable when you talk with a child.

Be prepared.
   Think about the questions that might come up. Imagine how you might answer them. Some common questions are:
   “Where do babies come from?” “Why does my brother/sister look different from me?” “What is sex?” Many times the initial
   questions will be followed by “Why” questions. Sometimes it is good for providers to answer the “Why” questions. At other
   times it is good to have the parents answer them.

Share information with parents.
   Encourage parents to answer their children’s questions. Tell parents when you have had discussions about sex in the
   childcare program. Offer them information about normal sexual development.   Help parents to prepare for questions that
   might come up.


  Talking with your children about sexuality


Go to:  • When children’s play involves sexuality
           • Homosexuality
           • HIV/AIDS
           • Tips for providers
           • Red flags – recognizing sexual abuse
           • Books for parents and children
  Sexuality education policy statement



For more information, contact Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE at jmyerswa@purdue.edu

Please feel free to link to, print off, redistribute, or reprint
  any of these materials as long as the original credits remain intact.

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