How to answer difficult questions from your kids.
So what do you do when on the way home from the bus stop, your five year old asks you what fellatio is?
Step 1: Keep your freak out internal.
External reaction: “Ummm….what?”
Internal reaction: “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God! Did he ask what I think he asked? I mean, I try to be open minded but how the eff do I explain this to a five year old? I can’t. I can’t tell him. What if he explains it to kids at school? Or his teacher? Arrrrggggghhhhh! And where the hell did he even hear that word? He is never riding that damn school bus again!”
Step 2: Stall.
“Hmmm…what did you want to know?
“I want to know what fellatio is!”
Step 3: Reframe the question.
I like to think of this as the “Spelling Bee” method.
“Hmmph….Can you use it in a sentence?”
“You know…it’s from that toy fish that Arianna has, ‘Give me back my fellatio fish!'”
Step 4: Answer the question he or she is actually asking.
“Ohhhhhh…you mean filet! The fish is saying ‘Give me back my filet – o – fish,’ not fellatio fish!”
“Oh, OK. So what’s a filet – o – fish?”
*Giant sigh of relief and explanation of the disgusting McDonalds sandwich masquerading as “fish.”*
The kids have asked me plenty of difficult questions. I was glad, in this case, to not have to discuss oral sex with a five year old. (And FYI – the best answer I concocted was “it’s something that grownups who like each other do sometimes for fun…oh look, a squirrel!”)
We’ve had the “how do babies get in there” talk. It’s Not the Stork is a great book to read together for any parent of young children who finds him or herself on the other end of that question. The kids know that babies grow in a uterus and not a “belly.” We’ve talked about September 11th. We’ve talked about what it means that someone is drunk and why drunk driving is bad. We’ve talked about death. We’ve talked about Cancer. We’ve talked about lots of things that initially made me freak out or have a lump in my throat, but after some deep breaths, I dove in to it. In the end, I was always glad we talked.
A few more keys I’ve found to answering any difficult questions:
1. Be honest. Kids know phony. I’d rather my kids keep asking me the tough questions instead of turning to their friends or Google. If I am honest with them, it sets a precedent, and hopefully encourages them to keep being honest with me. It doesn’t mean I don’t have the internal, “oh shit I don’t want to talk about this” moment. It just means I press on past that moment.
2. Be age-appropriate. A five year old doesn’t need a half-hour lecture on sexual relationships. He’s just curious about why his teacher’s stomach is getting bigger. Age-appropriate doesn’t mean you can’t use correct body part names, though. Last time I checked, men don’t have “wee-wees” and women don’t just have an area called “down there.” Penis and vagina are not bad words. If you have to, take a minute to yourself in another room before the discussion and say them aloud until you can do it without making a silly face or turning red.
3. Be calm. No question is worth getting angry over. If you answer calmly (despite internal freakout) you keep the lines of communication open for when they are older and ask the truly difficult questions like, “So did you ever use drugs?” or “Did you do that with your boyfriend when you were my age?” It’s also a good idea to foster their friendships with other adults you respect and trust, that way if they have questions they are too nervous to ask you about, they have another responsible adult to ask.
4. Be a good listener. The most important part of talking with your kids isn’t talking, it’s listening. I guess that goes for talking with anyone. When your kids ask questions about death, what they are often asking is “Am I going to be safe?” Listen to what they are asking. Look at their body language and their facial expressions. Give them a hug, let them know you love them and they are safe in this big crazy world. And cross your fingers that you will only need to explain what a “Filet-o-fish” is and not fellatio––for at least a few more years.