It happens to every parent eventually. One moment, your child is asking innocent questions about the Wiggles. The next, they want to know where babies come from. I call it the 'awkward question time-bomb' - it comes without warning and poor preparation can be catastrophic. Here are some firsthand tips from a survivor to help you get prepared.
Next year, my daughter will be turning six. She's an old hand at childhood now, and her bedtime questions are starting to get tougher. Below are five of the most awkward ruminations I've had to deal with, along with how I attempted to tackle each one.
(Naturally, there's no single correct answer to any of these queries. All kids are different and so are their parents. The following advice is how I handled each situation. You may find a different approach works better. The important thing is to think about the type of answer you want to give.)
"Is Santa real?"
The way to answer this depends on the child's age and whether they have younger siblings. With that said, the fact they asked in the first place suggests they doubt his existence and are ready to learn the truth. However, I find a gentle, ambiguous answer is still the best approach - something along the lines of: "Santa stops being real when you stop believing in him."
Crucially, this also eliminates the need to answer follow-up questions about why you perpetrated such a fantastical lie in the first place.
"How are babies made?"
Most kids tend to ask this question before they're old enough to hear a detailed answer. But that doesn't mean you should talk bollocks about cabbage patches or Mr Stalk. Shielding children from the realities of conception is ridiculous, but you don't want to scar them with the whole story either.
Instead, aim for a 'G-rated' version of the filthy truth. My wife and I plumped for an explanation along the lines of: "To make a baby, the mum and dad need to really like each other and have lots of cuddles." (They can also hate each other, but let's not complicate things, eh?)
"Are you going to die?"
The majority of kids are comfortable with their own mortality - old age is an eternity away and the thought rarely bothers them. However, when it comes to mum and dad, the inevitability of death feels a lot closer and will often play on their little minds (especially if you're prematurely grey or they've just watched Bambi).
This mixture of empathy and fear of abandonment can swiftly turn into tears if you don't say the right thing. Most parents attempt to assure their kids that by the time they kick the bucket they'll be all grown up with families of their own. I can confirm from my own childhood that this explanation rarely provides much solace.
When my daughter timidly asked the above question, I casually side-stepped it and explained the phenomenal advancements in medicine over the past 100 years. The average human lifespan is only going to increase in years to come - and who really know by how much? My optimistic speculation immediately calmed her without having to tell a fib. Thanks, science.
"Does God exist?"
Obviously, your approach to this one is going to be massively influenced by your own personal beliefs. I'm an agnostic at heart who leans more heavily towards the atheist side of the fence. Regardless of whether God exists, I've seen nothing in humanity to suggest we're any different to the rest of the animal kingdom. However, to present this opinion as fact to my kid would be pretty irresponsible.
When my daughter started asking about God, I explained the basics of Christianity and cautioned it was something only some people believe in. I also made sure to mention other religions and spiritual beliefs. She's currently attending scripture with my blessing. Regardless of what their parents believe, kids should be able to find their own way and make up their own mind.
"What are rainbows?"
This seemingly simple question actually threw me more than all the others. Just what are rainbows? While most of us have a basic understanding of how light and water cause colour wavelengths to appear, explaining it to a child is fiendishly difficult. My butchered science lesson was a dismal failure that might as well have been gobbledygook. On reflection, I should have just said that raindrops bend the light of the sun which creates colours. Sometimes, the KISS principle really is best.
This story has been updated since its original publication.