What To Do When You Don’t Know How to Answer Your Child’s Awkward Question

Val Mullally

May 21, 2018

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Need some ideas or tips on dealing with awkward questions from your kids? Here’s some practical help on what to do when you don’t know how to answer your child’s awkward question.

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“Mummy, where did I come from?”

Susan swallowed. The time had come for the birds-and-the-bees talk! She stumbled and stuttered, trying to figure out how to explain this to her youngster. Until her child interrupted,

“But Mammy, Aoife comes from Dublin, and Tomás comes from Cork. Where did I come from?”

It’s hard to quickly figure out how to answer a child’s unexpected question. Here are your A-E tips on how to respond when that awkward question catches you unawares.

You might also enjoy reading 21st Century Guide to the Birds and Bees

A – Acknowledge and Assess the Situation

You want to quickly figure out what’s needed here.

What is it that my child actually wants to know?”

“How do I handle this in a truthful and developmentally appropriate way?

Is this the appropriate setting to handle this question, or should I indicate we’ll chat later?

(There may, for example, be somebody else’s child present, and you may perceive it’s not your job to be “educating” the other child.)

You might also enjoy reading 7 Valuable Insights on How to Calm Anxiety in Your Child

B – Breathe


The reactive part of your brain that gets triggered when anything feels like an emergency can easily cause the rational part of your brain to go “temporarily offline” when you feel anxious or embarrassed about a question your child asks.

If you sense your emotional equilibrium is shaky, quietly take a few deep breaths before answering. It gives the “thinking part” of your brain a chance to catch up, which will save you blurting out some answer you may later regret.

C – Choose Calm

As you breathe, focus on being calm – in your thoughts, words and your body, because children are very tuned in to our non-verbal signals. If you give a strong reaction to your child’s question, they may get the message that it’s not ok to ask you questions on this topic.

I’d rather my child asked me the awkward questions than went looking in other places to find their answers.

D – Developmentally Appropriate

mother and daughter talking

Before you jump in with your answer, be conscious that what is a helpful response at one stage could be inappropriate for a younger or older child. And some children are less mature than others, so it’s not just a matter of asking truthfully but also in tune with their chronological age, but of their level of understanding, sensitivity and maturity.

Choose vocabulary your child can understand. If you use a less familiar word then weave other simpler words into your explanation to help your child understand what that word means.

You might also enjoy reading 10 Tips for Talking About Puberty with Your Daughter and How to Talk to Your Son about Puberty

E – Explore What Your Child Is Asking

Like Sandy, you may jump in with what you think is the information your child is looking for, without first checking in with your child that this is what they are actually enquiring about. Then you run the risk of giving them more information than they are needing at this stage.

What can be helpful is to repeat the question you heard. Using this approach, your response to your child could be:

“So you’re asking ….? Have I got you?”

This gives you a few seconds for your A-B-C, which means the “thinking part” of your brain has a chance to get back online, to assess what’s needed – how to handle this in a developmentally appropriate way, what to say and how to say it. It also gives you an opportunity to ascertain if the question you thought your child was asking is what they really are asking.

If you are still unsure if you’re on the right track, invite your child: “Tell me more.”

This gives your child the chance to explain what she’s asking. If Sandy had reflected her child’s question in this way and then asked, “Tell me more” it could have saved her from getting into a birds-and-bees discussion her child didn’t need at that point.

A Final Point

mother and child

Only answer the question your child is asking, without going into lengthy detail regarding the entire subject. If your child needs more information they’ll ask another question. Maybe they’ll ask another question now – or maybe at some time in the future. They’ll ask when they are ready.

The A-B-C of these tips are based on the first three steps of my new ebook: “Stop Yelling – Nine Steps to Calmer, Happier Parenting” which has just launched 21 May 2018

val mullally ebook

“Totally enjoyed the book. It’s definitely one to read, re-read, re-read … Great practical steps …”

When you don’t know how to answer your child’s awkward question, it’s easy to forget this A-E when you most need it. Why not write it out, or print off the image, and place it somewhere to remind yourself. Practise using this conversational skill to respond to your child’s questions before you really need it because it’s so much easier to respond helpfully if you have already developed the skill of using this parenting strategy to deepen the conversation with your child.

So now it’s over to you because we’re aware that this article might lead to other questions about this topic from you! What awkward questions has your child asked? Maybe the question was amusing or embarrassing or confusing for you and you were uncertain how to answer your child’s awkward question. We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. 

how to answer your child's awkward questions

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Published On: May 21st, 2018 / Categories: For Parents / Last Updated: March 30th, 2021 / Tags: , , /

About the Author: Val Mullally

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Val Mullally focuses on activating your inner wisdom in work, parenthood and life. She is an accredited Parenting Coach, Professional Reflective Practice Facilitator and founder of Koemba Parenting. She offers Parenting courses (both face-to-face and online), and is available as a workshop facilitator and a keynote speaker. Val is author of: 'BEHAVE - What to Do When Your Child Won’t’, ‘Stop Yelling – 9 Steps to Calmer, Happier Parenting’ ‘Baby and Toddler on Board – Mindful Parenting When a New Baby Joins the Family’ and ‘Ancient Wisdom for Business Success – How to Lead with Courage, Clarity and Confidence’ She is currently co-authoring ‘In Defence of the Naughty Child - Understanding Sensory Sensitivity’ and will be speaking on this topic at TEDx Wexford on 11 August 2022. Val spent many years in Southern Africa, where she worked as a teacher, principal and trainer in Education. She and her husband now live in the place her heart calls home, in their traditional Irish cottage in North County Cork, Ireland.

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