Every parent's dilemma... how to handle those awkward questions
From 'Is Father Christmas real?' to 'Why is the sky blue?', youngsters really know how to put parents on the spot, writes Lisa Salmon
Has your young child ever asked you a question you just can't answer? You're not alone - nearly half of parents admit they often struggle to answer their youngster's tricky questions.
So what's the solution? Around 50% of parents confess to turning to the internet in the hope of finding an answer, while a third just make it up. The survey, by Argos' Chad Valley Toys, found children under six ask an average of 73 questions a day - meaning a lot of Googling and on-the-spot answers for mums and dads.
Child psychologist Dr Sam Wass, from Channel 4's The Secret Life Of 4/5/6 Year Olds, says: "As children grow up, it's natural to be curious about the world around them, and as parents, it's easy to forget just how much of our children's knowledge comes from what we tell them.
"Using educational and visual aids, such as toys, can help soften the difficulty of broaching trickier subjects," he advises. "Familiar items can often help children's understanding."
To help parents withstand the daily question onslaught a little more easily, Dr Wass has come up with some handy replies for some of the toughest queries.
Here's how to answer nine of the most challenging kids' questions...
1. Is Father Christmas real?
On this question, you're often playing catch-up to what they've heard in the playground. "So much of childhood is losing its innocence, so we try to keep hold of what we can," says Dr Wass.
Ask them what they think, and if they suggest reasons Father Christmas is or isn't real, discuss these with them - and perhaps ask how mummy and daddy could possibly afford all their presents if Father Christmas didn't provide them.
2. Why do people die?
It can be tempting to soften the truth about death with a child. But telling them something like, 'Granny went to sleep', can backfire and cause more confusion later.
Often, grasping death in the context of nature can help: Compare a person's life to a tree's leaves, which bloom in the spring, then change colour and eventually die in the autumn. Or through animals dying, which for many children is their first experience of death.
If someone close dies, perhaps say something like: 'Granny was very old and sick. She doesn't talk or eat or breathe any more, and we won't see her again. But the love we had for her will stay with us forever.'
3. Where did I come from?
For many children, 'from mummy's tummy' is an answer that satisfies them for years.
If they ask, 'How did I get into mummy's tummy?', go for something like: 'Daddy has seeds inside him called sperm. Mummy has eggs inside her instead. When grown-ups make a baby, the sperm from daddy needs to get to mummy's womb, so one can join up with the egg and fertilise it. That's the start of a new baby.'
4. What is God?
Don't be afraid to tell your child what you, personally, believe is the answer. It can also help to explain that different people have very different opinions on whether God exists, and, if so, what God is like.
5. What does 'we can't afford it' mean?
The answer depends on the age of the child. For an older child, this can be an opportunity to discuss why some people have more money than others. But for a younger child, it might be better to teach about budgeting, and planning, their resources. Tell them everybody has to decide what they most want, and has to save their money for important things.
6. Why do I have to go to school?
If your child asks this question a lot, try to find out why. If they just ask once, say school helps them practise using their brain, and make them aware of what they can use their brain for. Remind your child that mummy and/or daddy also have to go to work, to use their brain and earn money.
7. When you die who will I live with?
Reassure your child that it's very unlikely you're going to die soon, but tell them what would happen to them if you did, and that they'd live with someone they loved and trusted.
8. Why is the sky blue?
You need to know a bit of basic science for this one: Light from the sun looks white, but it's made from all the colours of the rainbow. The light travels in waves of different lengths, which are reflected off tiny bits of dust and other very small particles in the earth's atmosphere. Because blue light waves are shorter, they're more likely to hit the dust and other particles, and get reflected down to earth, making the sky look blue.
9. Why can't I stay up as late as you?
My instinct would be to use this an opportunity to teach a child about sleep.
Explain that sleep lets our bodies and brains rest, and when we're asleep and lying flat, our bones can grow. Because adults have stopped growing, children need more sleep than them.
Plus, when we sleep, our brains tidy themselves up and reorganise what we've learned during the day.
Children are learning new things very fast. For example, the average child learns 10 new words a day. Adults don't learn so fast, because they already know their words.