Responding to Children’s Questions During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Responding to Children’s Questions During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Education September 14, 2020 / By Joanne Foster, EdD
Responding to Children’s Questions During the COVID-19 Pandemic
SYNOPSIS

Children’s questions are important—it’s how they learn to make sense of the world. Responding can be as challenging as the times… (And these are challenging times!) Here are 10 tips for parents.

“I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. Occasionally, I find an answer.” ~ Stephen Hawking


Children learn by observing, listening, playing, exploring, and asking questions. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic is fueling children’s questions—lots of them –and rightly so. Kids may be feeling confused, vulnerable, and frightened. The entire world is dealing with a serious situation, and children who recognize the gravity of this have concerns relating to unpredictability, changes, schooling, controversies, safety protocols, and even mortality. How can parents encourage inquiry, and also respond to their child’s questions in ways that are honest, informative, reassuring, and age-appropriate?

RESPONDING TO CHILDREN’S QUESTIONS

“There is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected questions of a child than the discourses of men.” ~ Philosopher John Locke
  1. ENCOURAGE BASIC INQUIRY PROCESSES. Asking questions —and, just as importantly seeking and discovering answers—can increase knowledge and spark creativity. What exactly does the child want to find out? Help young children kids learn to formulate basic who, what, where, when, why, and how questions. Older children can learn to ask more strategic questions by applying what they already know, by paying attention to what others ask, and by taking a few seconds to pause and think things through before communicating.
  2. INQUIRY COMES IN DIFFERENT FORMS. Children may ask many questions, or a few, or perhaps just one. Questions might be spontaneous, carefully considered, surprisingly intuitive, delicate, unconventional, hesitant, or naive… They all merit attention. It helps if adults are as informed as possible. (Even so, and especially in tumultuous times, answers are not necessarily easily acquired.)
  3. BE RESOURCEFUL. The current reality is unprecedented. The future is unknown. In some circumstances, parents cannot answer questions as accurately as they might like. It’s okay—and honest—to say so when that’s the case. View it as an opportunity to be resourceful and to discover information together.
  4. START FROM WHAT’S KNOWN. Help children build understandings from their acquired knowledge bases—that is, what they can see, already do, and have previously experienced. Remember, children are in the process of learning, and that takes time. Use familiar words. Respond in ways that are aligned with their levels of comprehension.
  5. CLARIFY. If parents don’t understand the gist of a child’s question, it makes sense to ask. Parents can repeat it or rephrase the inquiry in order to indicate the child’s intent as it is being understood—just to be sure, and so as to answer it both honestly and appropriately.
  6. NOT ALL ANSWERS HAVE TO BE INSTRUCTIVE. When offering a response to a question, assess the mood and the dynamic. Answers can be fulsome if need be. Or, they can be quick and easy—albeit not frivolous or dismissive. Children seeking answers deserve to have their inquiry respected.
  7. CONSIDER THE TIME AND PLACE. The best question and answer exchanges take place when both (or all) parties are comfortable and attentive. Sometimes it makes sense to encourage children to write questions down first, or to wait for a more opportune time before asking them. This is especially true if a specific inquiry is not pressing, if it requires a relatively long answer, if the response is of a personal or private nature, or if you happen to be in a place that is not conducive to discussion. If a question is really urgent, then address it promptly.
  8. BE PATIENT. Some children may be reluctant to communicate. Others might require extra time or help to convey what’s on their mind. They may be nervous, sad, confused, angry, scared, or frustrated… Don’t pressure. Offer reassurance if children have difficulty managing their emotions, formulating thoughts, or asking questions.
  9. BE COMPASSIONATE. It’s best for parents to be fully attuned to what may underlie a child’s inquiry. A child could be seeking facts, consolation, support, or resources to help resolve or address concerns. Be available, listen attentively, mitigate misinformation, and think carefully and sensitively before responding so as to be both informative and comforting.
  10. SHOW KIDS HOW INQUIRY CAN LEAD TO POSITIVE OUTCOMES. Demonstrate with examples from personal experience, how inquiry can be a first—and very gratifying and inspiring—step toward knowledge, positive action, creative expression, and new possibilities. Philosopher Francis Bacon wrote, “Who questions much, shall learn much, and retain much.Positivity and forward momentum are important—especially during trying times.

LAST WORDS

The power to question is the basis for all human progress.” ~ Indira Ghandi

When children engage in inquiry, they’re poised to discover new ideas, attitudes, solutions, technologies, perspectives, and opportunities for expanding their intellectual and creative capabilities. Therefore, parents have an important role to foster children’s curiosity, and also to provide information.

Parents can also ask their own questions and seek thoughtful answers. For example, “What do YOU think?” Or “I’m not sure… How can we go about finding the answer together?” Or “What might be a good next step?” By keeping it simple but encouraging, and by modeling inquiry, parents can involve children in an engaging and informative response process. It’s a sensible approach for fueling their question-asking acumen, knowledge, and resourcefulness.

Questions, big and small, are a foundation of learning. When children learn to increase the scope and sophistication of their inquiry, they can extend their understandings, and learn at a higher, deeper, and broader level. It helps to be informed, especially during times of instability. Let’s continue to encourage children’s questions of all kinds throughout this challenging pandemic—and beyond.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joanne Foster, Ed.D. is a parent, teacher, gifted education and child development expert, and the multiple award-winning author of several parenting books. Her most recent book is ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids: Hundreds of Ways to Inspire Your Child. Dr. Foster’s work focuses on supporting and encouraging children’s well-being—including their intelligence, creativity, productivity, and self-confidence. Check out the many articles in her column at The Creativity Post, and visit her website at www.joannefoster.ca

RECOMMENDED
FOR YOU
comments powered by Disqus