If experience is a qualification, then I ought to be a certified expert on answering children’s questions. As the parent of two teenagers, I mistakenly thought my days of answering endless inquires of, “Why?” were over. I think my oldest son asks me as many questions now as he did when he was a preschooler! I also teach preschoolers and school-age children at church, and they ask questions that would stump the most renowned college professors. As adults, we often see children’s questions as distractions from the point we are teaching. How then should we approach questions children ask? What can we do to encourage a shy or reflective child to openly query us? What are some typical childhood questions?
We can prepare for children’s questions by learning some basic principles.
First, listen to the question with your ears, eyes and mind.
When a child probes you for information, wait to answer until you are sure the child has finished talking. While listening with your ears, look at the child to discover facial clues. Is she afraid or worried, or is she just curious? When a child is asking a question, stay focused by not allowing your mind to wander or to begin to formulate an answer prematurely.
Second, give the child only as much information as he is ready to hear.
Answer according to the child’s level of understanding. Follow up the child’s questions with your own questions to discover clues to his thinking and to determine what he is really asking. Ask, “Why are you asking that?” or, “What do you think?” Giving a child too much information before he is ready to process it can lead to greater confusion.
Third, be honest.
Some questions are very tough and catch us off guard. Resist the temptation to look surprised regardless of the question. Some children try to shock adults with their questions, while other children innocently ask difficult questions. If there is not enough time to answer, promise to talk about the issue at a specified future time (and keep your promise). If you do not know the answer, make that simple acknowledgement and promise to seek an answer. If the question is unanswerable, gently let the child know no one knows the answer, but make sure she does not think you are avoiding a reply.
Finally, when suitable, guide the child to discover the answer herself.
Ask questions that lead the child to think in ways that may lead to the answer. Also, direct the child to resources such as the Bible and child-friendly Bible studies.
Those are some guidelines for answering children’s questions, but what about the child who is too shy to ask questions? Try to develop a relationship with that child so he feels comfortable talking with you. Initiate a conversation by asking the child a question, leading him to think about biblical truths and prompting him to want to ask for additional information. Never belittle the child or make fun of his questions.
Adults can never be fully prepared to answer every question a child might ask. However, as a children’s ministry leader, at some point you probably will need to be ready to answer questions such as: “Why are people baptized?” “Why did Jesus have to die?” “How do we know stories in the Bible are true?” “Do dogs and cats go to heaven?” How will you answer these questions? As you converse with the child and discuss her questions and possible answers, you are building a relationship with that child that may give you future opportunities for evangelism, discipleship and ministry.
Thank God children ask you questions. That means they are interested in what God has to say about a subject. Questions are open windows into a child’s mind and an invitation for you to join him on his quest for the truth.