As a parent you have 4 or 5 years, on average, before you’ll be asked this question. Age 4 or 5 is the typical age when children begin to wonder about things that give them a context for their human experience.
They want to understand more and more how the world works. Your chlid’s question is completely in keeping with her developmental progress, no less than asking the answer to 3×4 or how cats stay clean.
Often we may think our child is not ready for certain topics. Recently a Mum on Facebook shared that her 4 (almost 5) year old daughter had asked her how you get a baby. In order to protect her innocence, the Mum said that you talk nicely to Mother Nature.
Protecting my children’s innocence is about protecting them from the external world until their natural progression in independence leads them into a growing awareness of life.
When a question rises up from within them, even if it’s inspired by external events, then I want to honour that. I trust their unique process of childhood.
When a child asks you a question about something then they are ready for the answer.
Saying Yes to our children doesn’t mean we have to take away the magic of childhood. The difference between asking where babies come from and asking about fairies and Santa is that fairies and Santa are magical realities and where babies come from is factual reality. My boys (now 9 and 11) love Santa and the Tooth Fairy. I don’t know whether they know the truth or not (I suspect they do) but they love to be in that magical reality. Whenever they ask me for the truth I reply with, “What do you think?” and we then go on a magical conversation based on their response.
With factual reality, your child trusts that you are the right place to go to ask these questions. The answer won’t affect his innocence because there is nothing that could take it away if shared appropriately – honest, clear and concise, using words that are familiar.
When I was 4 I asked my Dad how babies were made. He used the words that were familiar with me and said, “The Daddy puts his willy in the Mummy’s winkle and plants a seed. That seed joins with the Mummy’s egg and it grows into a baby”. I remember it so clearly to this day because it made sense to me and it met me exactly where I was at.
I have raised my boys talking about males having a penis and females having a vagina (although now we talk about the clitoris too – pretty important I think for boys to know about the clitoris!!!).
I have always answered their questions with honesty and in an age appropriate way.
1. They come to me because they trust me. I want to honour that and respond with honesty. I don’t want them to ever wonder why I wasn’t honest and for them to then consider going elsewhere to find out answers to things they’re not sure about, especially when it comes to the important stuff.
2. By being honest I reinforce that is safe to talk to me. It doesn’t matter how small or big the topic is, I choose to be a safe place for them to discuss the things that are important to them and they are thinking about. One day those things might be underage sex, drugs, bullying etc.
3. I trust the process of childhood and it hasn’t yet failed me or the many others who advocate doing the same. When a child is ready they are ready. I don’t want to get in the way of that process, either by delaying it or rushing it. This can sometimes be one of the hardest elements of parenting because it goes against so many of the messages from society and the other voices around us. But children know what they need and when they need it in relation to their unique development path.
When your child asks you where babies come from, take a breath and say, “What a wonderful question!”. Then go ahead and tell them the truth using words that will make sense to them. This might be the first of many important questions that your child will ask you – start as you mean to go on.