Bonnie Rochman found a teachable moment during last weekend’s Super Bowl:
“Dad, where do babies come from?”
The opening line of Kia’s Super Bowl commercial doesn’t beat around the bush. The question spills forth during a car ride, making Dad’s eyes bug out before he quickly recovers and spins a fantastical story of a planet, Babylandia, from which newborns of every ilk originate. The mom plays a bit part, buckled in the passenger seat, silent and smiling — as if she doesn’t have the moxie to interrupt her husband’s psychobabble and give her son the 411 on how he got into her uterus and ultimately into the back seat of their new car.
Rochman makes the case for listening to what kids already know first, before giving spontaneous, off-the-cuff responses:
“Things like this ad are a great opportunity to have the conversation,” says Susan Bartell, a parenting and child psychologist in Port Washington, N.Y. Where babies come from is one of the most common queries lobbed at parents, according to Bartell, who wrote The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask.
“When your kid asks you that question, your response should be, Tell me what you think,” says Bartell, who is also a contributor to BabyCenter.com. “Before you answer them, you want to elicit what they’ve heard. Kids hear so many things, and they are looking for you to confirm what they know already or rebut it.”
When children ask difficult questions, it’s important to ask yourself:
- Why are they asking this question about sex, or drugs, or death, or God, or whatever is on their mind? It may be simple curiosity, but kids often have specific — sometimes personal — reasons to ask you these questions.
- Why are they asking ME these questions? Remember this before you reply: “Go ask your mother.”
- To whom are they going to repeat my answer? Will it make me look like a hero or make them look like a fool?
- How long will they remember my response? (Hint: maybe forever!)
- Am I prepared to answer all the follow-up questions that will ensue, probably in rapid-fire?
Once you get an idea of where your child is coming from:
- Keep your answer short and sweet.
- Always tell the truth as you see it.
- Don’t tell them things that you, yourself, don’t believe.
- Be sensitive — there are no foolish questions.
- Be patient — especially for younger kids who may not completely understand your initial response.
- Be age-appropriate with the language you use — not too complex or graphic for young kids (the picture you put in a child’s mind with your explanations is very much like a thousand words), not too childish for older kids (who develop BS detectors pretty early).