I tucked my daughter’s chair under the table for breakfast and encouraged her to say her grace before eating.
“God is great . . .” she began the standard prayer.
“God is good . . .” she continued.
Then, the hatchet:
“Mommy, what if God isn’t great? What then?”
I wish I could brag about how well I handled her question. Really, I wish I could. Instead, I hang my head in shame as I type this and admit I went into fight-or-flight mode . . . and instead of battling her question with the truth of the Almighty’s goodness, I fled to my husband’s office instead, whisper-yelling a frantic, “What should I do?! What should I say?!”
Please tell me I’m not the only one who gets caught unawares by their preschooler’s seemingly innocent—yet loaded—questions. In theory, my five-year-old’s question was an easy one to answer, but I knew a slew of follow-up questions and rebuttals would follow, ones that would require complicated answers I wasn’t prepared to answer well.
This parenting fail got me thinking that maybe I’m not the only parent who botches a great teachable moment. If you can relate, here are five ways to survive those moments when your young kids start asking hard-hitting questions:
Stall. Yep. I said it. Sometimes, the very best thing you can do is take a moment and admit to your kids you don’t know all the answers. It’s a humanizing admission that I think kids ought to learn early—that their parents aren’t perfect, and that they indeed don’t know everything. After admitting you don’t know the answer, give them a time when they can expect an answer from you. Use that time wisely to research the answer and/or talk to your co-parent to align yourselves on how you want to tackle your answer.
Anticipate hard questions now and craft your responses. We all know this to be true: Our kids will ask us blindsiding questions that will require well-thought-out answers. And there are some we can anticipate before they’re even asked. So, let’s start thinking about those responses right now. How do you want to handle questions about death or sickness? What do you want to say when your kids ask how we know God is real if we can’t actually see God? There’s no such thing as too much preparation. And make sure to type out your answers—there’s nothing that can erase your memory faster than a shocking, out-of-nowhere question from your kids.
Ask your kids questions to gauge their understanding. When my daughter asks me a difficult question, my go-to response is, “Well, what do you think about that?” It helps me to understand what she already knows and allows me to fill in any holes in her thinking. Then, I’m in a better place to formulate an answer.
Research together. There will be plenty of times your kids will ask you a question you won’t anticipate, and that’s a perfect time to learn together. When you research things together, you’re teaching them to value independent learning. Searching for answers demonstrates they don’t have to take the first answer they’re given and accept it as fact—that it’s perfectly acceptable and encouraged to consider other sources of information. Researching answers to hard questions together helps your kids process, analyze, and become critical thinkers.
Delay your answer until an age-appropriate time. Answering your kids’ questions in real-time is preferred, but sometimes, now is just not the time. Sometimes, it’s best for you to answer a question at a time when your kids are in a spot maturity-wise to better understand your answer. In those cases, never convey they asked a bad question. Instead, affirm them and thank them for trusting you to answer their question honestly, but tell them you have to answer when they’re a little older and be prepared to explain why you’ve made this decision.
When my daughter asks me hard questions, I’m reminded of something time and time again: That while she’s growing, I’m meant to grow, too . . . and that requires me to extend to myself immeasurable amounts of grace and expect that I’ll not always get it right.