From when they are wee, right through to when they are teenagers, how you react and respond to their questions has a lot of influence on their learning. Many parents want to be open and honest with their children but feel anxious about getting it wrong, saying too much, opening the flood gates for more detailed questions, knowing what words to use etc. You can't prepare for every potential question but there are some general approaches that might make you feel more relaxed:
Even if you don't answer a question, children will pick up messages from the way you react. Looking shocked, being angry or flustered indicates that this is not something its ok to talk about. Regardless of what they ask, stay calm and congratulate them for asking. This will make them feel confident to ask you questions in the future. If they're asking you it's because they trust and respect your opinion - even if it doesn't always seem that way!
Its ok to delay answering
This is more likely to be the case with younger children, who will ask things as it occurs to them and haven't grasped the potential embarrassment factor for parents, for example, questions about where babies come from while you're at the checkout in the supermarket.
Have a few stock answers prepared, for example:
‘That's a great question! Let's talk about it when we get home'. Or
‘That's a great question! Lets look it up when we get home'.
Delaying the conversation can also be good if you need a wee bit more time to think about how you want to answer it.
What is it they want to know?
Knowing what's prompted a question can make it easier to pitch the answer right. Often you'll know this as you'll know what's going on in your family that they've picked up on or what they've been watching on TV or reading. Sometimes it seems like questions come out of the blue; again having a few stock phrases can help:
‘That's a good/interesting question, what made you think of that?'
Keep your answer simple
You are the best judge of what's right for their particular age and stage of development but it's always best to start off with a simple answer because if they want to know more, they will ask you. Equally, don't worry about having said too much, children will generally filter out information that they are not ready for.
If you don't know the answer to something, say so. Let them know that you'll find out and get back to them, or look it up together. Many parents feel that their teenagers know more than they do, particularly about areas where information changes a lot such as contraception, sexually transmitted infections or services available in their community.
It's not just information that children and teenagers need from you but also your opinions, morals, values and feelings about this topic. This helps them develop their own emotional intelligence and morality. When they are teenagers, you might find you have conflicting opinions on things to do with this topic. If you want them to keep talking to you about things that matter remember to listen to their views as well as offering yours.