Jane Devine : Kids should ask about anything

Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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Teaching kids that it’s OK to ask about anything, even things that embarrass you, will help keep them safe, writes Jane Devine

Children are curious beings. It is in their nature to ask questions. On average, an adult looking after a small child will be asked around 250 questions a day.

That can become incredibly frustrating, especially at the end of a long day when the question is something utterly perplexing like “why is blue?” Not, “why is the sky blue?” or “why is blue, blue?” Just, “why is blue?”

It is really important however that the most bizarre and the straightforward questions are answered so that children can learn, but also so they can understand that it is OK to ask about anything.

All parents will find some questions easier to answer than others, but it is important that they are answered clearly and plainly and that as adults we don’t pass on our hang-ups on to our kids. Questions about death, answered with responses like “granddad has gone to sleep” can be more confusing to a child who then expects granddad to wake up.

It’s the questions about body parts and sex, however, that seem to cause the most discomfort to adults, yet are probably the most important questions to answer and conversations to have with children. I’ve heard many parents teach their children to refer to their body parts with pet names like “flower” or “wee man”; and refer to the “birds and the bees” before flinging a book at older children, rather than talk about how babies are actually made.

It might make us feel uncomfortable, but most parents find when they do have “the conversation” with their children, the children are unfazed, experiencing none of the hang-ups of their parents.

One conversation we should all have with our children, but we all wish we didn’t need to, is about abuse. A recent poll of 1,200 adults commissioned by the NSPCC showed that half of parents had not discussed this with their children; and 43 per cent of those that had said it had been a difficult conversation.

Of course it is a difficult conversation, but the NSPCC has launched a campaign to help parents do this and it is plain and simple. It uses clear language to promote the “underwear rule”: anything covered by your pants is private.

Comments on the Netmums website revealed that parents found talking about “stranger danger” easier than tackling the issue of abuse with their children. This is a classic example of parents skirting the tricky issues: firstly, by talking about not going away with strangers, we are not acknowledging that 90 per cent of abuse is by adults known to children; and secondly we are not tackling what happens when “the bad man” has got the kid.

Kids know when thing are wrong. They might not always have the language and understanding to communicate things, but teaching them that it is always OK to ask questions, answering them with simple words and keeping our adult hang-ups to ourselves will go a long way towards keeping them safe.