Child who asks for information is ready to learn


Q: My 10-year-old daughter is beginning to ask questions about sex, condoms, etc., and I do not know if she is ready for all of that. I need some information on this.

-- A.C., Evergreen Park, Ill.

A: The fact that a 10-year-old is asking questions means she's ready for some answers.

And if you don't supply them, somebody else will, say parents who called Child Life.

"You are very lucky that she is coming to you and that she'll listen to you," says Julie Boler of Raleigh, N.C. "If you are afraid of her questions and don't give her information, then she'll turn to other kids."

Also, parents say, you have a chance to discuss your values along with the basic facts.

"If you want to teach your children principles and maybe even a biblical standpoint, you've got to do it before their peers do," says M.D. of North Tonawanda, N.Y.

The trick is to give honest answers that aren't too advanced for the child's maturity level.

"Only answer the question, no more," says Amy Blair, of Buffalo, N.Y. "If they want more of an answer, they'll continue to ask."

That's a good rule of thumb, says Dr. Stanley I. Greenspan, a child psychiatrist and professor at George Washington University Medical School.

"A 5-year-old needs to know there's a seed and that it gets fertilized, but she doesn't need to know how," Dr. Greenspan says. "In the 10- to 12-year-old range, they're ready for the next installment. They need to have a good scientific explanation that's more anatomically specific."

To gauge what to say, find out how much your child already knows, says Dr. Greenspan, author of "Playground Politics: Understanding the Emotional Life of Your School-Age Child" (Addison Wesley, $12).

"The child may only want to know what a condom is, not all the various uses," Dr. Greenspan says. "She may only want to know so she's not embarrassed around her friends."

A little investigative work was the key for a Naperville, Ill., parent.

"When my daughters asked at an early age, my solution was asking them what they had heard so far and then expanding on it and explaining it in the context of real life," J.B. says.

"This is not a one-time discussion," Dr. Greenspan says. "You want to establish an on-going relationship so the child will feel comfortable talking with either parent about what's going on and what the kids are saying at school."

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