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Answering tough questions from toddlers

In your 3-year-old's eyes, you're the expert on everything. That's a lot of pressure.

"Why is the sky blue?"

"Why are bananas yellow?"

"Where do babies come from?"

Your child is eager to learn about the world and is likely full of questions. Some of them might be easy to answer. But no matter how much you know, you can expect to be stumped by your curious toddler at some point.

"Why" questions can be especially hard to answer. And even a perfectly reasonable answer might be met with another "why?"

Other questions can be tough to answer, too, but for different reasons. Conversations about difficult topics, like sex, death or the nightly news, might be too complex or mature for your little one.

These difficult conversations are a normal part of parenting a 3-year-old. If you respond to these questions thoughtfully and without judgment, you can help teach your child love, trust and respect.

Tips for talking to your 3-year-old

Whether the topic is bananas or the birds and bees, here are a few tips for navigating these difficult conversations:

Be serious. Try not to laugh or giggle—even if the question seems silly or cute. You can help support your child's learning if you are sincere and don't make him or her feel embarrassed, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Find out what your child knows, or thinks she or he knows. Let his or her questions guide what you say, suggests the AAP. Ask open-ended questions of your own.

Listen carefully. Listening and asking clarifying questions can help you understand what your child is trying to say. And it helps make him or her feel important.

Acknowledge your child's point of view. Try not to judge what he or she says. This will help your child feel accepted. It also will foster trust in your relationship, according to the AAP.

Keep it simple. Your child doesn't understand and isn't interested in complex reasoning. Try to keep your answers short and simple, suggests the AAP.

Be honest. If you don't know the answer, it's OK to say so. Maybe you can find an age-appropriate book on the subject and learn the answer together.

Don't avoid the topic. Helping your child through difficult issues is an important part of your job as a parent.

You can help your little one make sense of the world by talking honestly about tough topics, according to Zero to Three. For instance, in the case of a death, children need to be able to grieve. They also need to know they can talk about their feelings.

And remember that your child will learn many things about the world from other, potentially less reliable sources—such as extended family, friends, movies and TV. You're your little one's best teacher.

Talk about feelings. Help your child identify and label how he or she feels.

Also, try to be open about your own feelings. For instance, it's OK to tell your child if you're uneasy answering certain questions (such as about sex), notes the AAP. And it's also OK to cry or say you're feeling sad when answering questions about a loved one's death. Sharing your feelings may encourage your child to share his or hers.

Reviewed 12/5/2022

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