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Embarrassing Questions

Dear Debi,
I am often asked blunt and occasionally embarrassing questions by the children I care for. What is the best way to handle their inquiries?
Tracy, Orange, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Answer kids honestly with age-appropriate information
  • Children are trying to understand the world around them
  • Use conversation & learning materials to help kids understand similarities
Expert Advice
Mike Salas
Mike Salas
Pre-K and Kindergarten teacher
Child Care providers should answer kids honestly and with age-appropriate information. Answers to questions like “Why is that man fat?” should be replied without judgment. Replies such as “because he eats too much” or “because he doesn’t exercise” teach kids to judge others, which is not what you want to instill in them. Providing honest, straightforward and factual answers will satisfy the child’s inquiry.

Kids are trying to learn about the world around them and the easiest way for them to do that is to ask questions. As they begin to develop their language skills they will start asking a lot of “embarrassing” question, such as the one mentioned before. This usually occurs at around the age of four.

It’s very normal for kids to ask these types of questions because they are trying to make sense of their own experiences. And since they are developing their language skills, as we mentioned before, their questions are based on the factuality of things, on how they see and recognize the world directly, which can seem bold and embarrassing for you.

It’s important that child care providers provide children with opportunities to understand and appreciate the differences and similarities between people. This teaches them to be more caring about others and puts them in a position to understand that they are different too. Teaching them about differences and showing them that these differences make us unique and special teaches them to be more open.

It is important for us as adults to become comfortable with the topic of differences or otherness. If you have nothing to hide, you will be ready and comfortable with answering unexpected questions. If you hush kids when they ask questions, on the other hand, you are putting forth the idea that this topic is not fine to talk about. That’s not what you want. You want to have kids ask any kind of questions and understand the differences between people. And if you make it a practice to answer kids’ questions, they will learn that they can rely on you, rather than figuring it out on their own.

Remember… always answer questions factually, without judgment, and if there needs to be more explanation after the incident, then go ahead and explain further about what the child asked at a more appropriate time.

Providers can use books, videos, and other learning materials to talk with kids about all sorts of topics from disabilities to race and gender issues. I also like to use pictures of different people and post them up on the walls so that kids see that there are different people in the world. I also use activities that use magazines to cut out pictures of different people to make a collage. All these activities provide kids opportunities to help them make sense of their experiences and understand. It will also help them to care about people who are different than they are.
Child Care provider Comments
Child care provider for 4 years
I was taking care of a little girl with cerebral palsy and some of the other children would go up to her and say, “Are you a baby?” and call her “baby” all the time. I knew that she was older than the other kids and that perhaps she was hurt by the questions and comments of the group. I decided to take the opportunity to teach the kids about cerebral palsy and explain to them that cerebral palsy makes it difficult for her to balance herself or walk on her own. Once they understood what was wrong with her, they began to relate to her and include her in the group.
Child care provider for 4 years
I think it’s important to be honest, but you need to be aware of their age. When I talk to them about certain issue, I give them information that is appropriate for their age. I try to educate them a bit before the blunt questions begin. I use these blocks called “Differing Abilities Block Play People” which shows people who have different physical abilities and ask them questions about the difference between people.

I also use books and videos as a supplement to explain ethnic differences and have kids bring family posters that they put together at home. I think this activity is great because it shows that despite our differences, we have a lot in common.
Diane Ferguson
Diane Ferguson
Child care provider for 3 years
If a child asks me a specific question about someone’s appearance, I try to answer it on the spot. I usually reinforce that we’re all different and unique. People are individuals and everyone has something to contribute, regardless of what they look like on the outside. I tell them that people’s differences can actually contribute something positive to your life and help you in ways you never even imagined. I try to focus on people’s strengths, rather than their weaknesses.

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Topic: Early Learning Areas
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