Monday, August 22, 2011

How much information is too much information?

Before you have kids, nobody ever warns you about the quicksand. Okay, they don't warn you about lots of other stuff either (conjunctivitis anyone?) but the quicksand is one area into which an innocent parent wanders easily and often. Big quicksand subjects are sign-posted - you can prepare for Death, Sex and Mortgages, you can see them coming (or not, see here) and deflect the child with a random 'oh, wow, was that a Ninja Turtle I just saw?' But the others...

Today I found myself floundering not once, but twice, and without warning. The conversations went from nowhere to Physics (eep!) and Chemistry (help!) in the blink of an eye and without a safety net. This time it was not Mr4, asker of the world's most difficult questions, but Mr7 who led me merrily down the path towards MumsNotASuperhero (could almost be a Welsh village, could it not?), via quicksand.

The scene: Front yard, Gran & Pops's house. The boys are riding bikes on the very cool driveway.

Mr7: "Mum, why do bikes stay up when you ride them and fall over when you stop?"

Me, not thinking: "Oh, it's to do with physics."

Mr7: "What's physics?"

Me, still unaware of the cold trickle of wet sand between my toes: "It's a type of science."

Mr7: "What's that got to do with bikes?"

Me, beginning to feel ground shifting beneath my feet: "Well, the bike stays up when you ride because the force of the momentum of the bike is stronger than the force of the pull of gravity on it."

Mr7: Pause. "Mum, what's force?"

Me, finally listening to internal voice shrieking 'you have no idea what you're talking about': "You'll learn about it in year 9 science. Just keep riding or you'll fall over."

The scene: The dinner table. Mr7, Mr4 and I are enjoying a little light dinner table conversation.

Actually, I cannot even relay this chat word for word. All I remember is using the words 'organic', 'chemicals', 'photosynthesis', 'carbon dioxide' and 'biology'. The feel of cold, wet sand closing over my head has blanked out the rest. Suffice to say, I was on shaky ground and ended up offering to buy him one of those kids' science encyclopaedias, just to take the pressure off.

My policy with the basic information questions (as opposed to the big Life questions) has always been to throw as much detail at the kids as they could take. If they ask me something, I explain the hell out of it (hence my 'fun' chats about collective nouns), pretty much until their eyes glaze over - a sure sign that they've stopped listening. But, as Mr7 gets older and, let's face it, smarter than me, the gaps in my own knowledge (particularly in the sciences) become more glaringly apparent. I get the feeling I'll be standing in that quicksand more and more often in the future.

How do you handle questions that have real, factual answers? Do you go for simple and efficient, or throw as much at your kids as they (and you) can handle?

[image: beatboxgoesthump.tumblr]


  1. I leave the science & maths questions to Hubby. He would be helpful in your above chat. I used to rely on my standard answer to tricky questions "Well, it just does" e.g. "Mum, why does the moon come out in the day as well?" Me ... "It just does." But now that the kids are older, it doesn't really work on the eldest 2 anymore e.g. 7 yr old son's questions about how you can have a baby & I answer when a mum & dad want a baby they can have a baby. He used to be happy with that. Now he's not convinced & responded "That's just weird" & shook his head. More info is obviously needed from me. Aghhhhhh!!!!!

  2. You know you're deficient when your nearly three year old defies you with logic.

    With my students, I take the cop out - 'let's look that up together' or 'what do you (or anyone in the vicinity) think about that?'


  3. I'm with Mum on the Run. The internet can be very resourceful. I'd be bying him the science book too.

  4. "Let's find that out"...

    I used it in the classroom and I use it with my own kids. It's a get out of jail free card. Except of course, that then you are obliged to "find out". Cue Google, the library, Grandad, whatever best suits the question. In fact, lately, there have been so many questions about car engines that the fail safe answer has been modified specifically to "Let's ask Grandad"

  5. Your approach is the best that I have used . The biggest problem comes when you don't have the onfo required . Thank the tech gods for the internet. "Well let's see if we can find the answer to that."

    'I don't know is valid ' ...the hidden problem...they might stop asking question... and the nice little chats get fewer and farther between. I miss all those chats. You have to wait for the grandchildren.

  6. Sorry, can't answer that, just fell off my bike laughing!

  7. I always get stuck as I go into a long scientific explanation and then find out half way through that I don't actually know why.

  8. Love your final response to the bike question!

    For those really difficult questions, I say lets ask Papa when he gets home (he's a materials scientist), or lets take a look on the internet.

  9. LOL!!! You have one up on me, Allison. I can't ever say: just wait until year 9 science. I'm it!!!! I'm freaking out!! LOL

  10. Since Biology was my first major I can handle the science questions but the math is a completely different story. I give my son as much detail as I can and if I don't know, I tell him that I don't know but we can find out together. Then we do.

  11. I said something to a friend recently about being asked difficult questions, and she said to just give factual answers that baffle the child so much they'll just smile and walk away. But that's my problem - I don't know science!

  12. Usually, if I can answer it, I do with as much as he can comprehend (I get him to explain it back to me). If I can't, I suggest we look it up together, and off to Google we go. Physics will be left to JOel, as it is beyond me-the only science I just couldn't master.

    Long division, I'm moving out of home. I kid you not.

    Joel just says "Why don't we get Mummy to explain that? She always explains things better". Chicken Sh!t. :D

    Great post.

  13. We do the 'let's look it up' deflection. Simple, enabling and saves mum's bacon. Not looking forward to my kids knowing more than me. I like being involved in their inquiries.

  14. I'm such an ignoramous (bad mother) it's "ask your father". I didn't want to know this stuff when I was young and I definately don't want to know it now I'm old...

  15. My 8 yr old asked why aeroplanes aren't pulled down by gravity the other day. I just love how they can make you feel like an idiot.

  16. Al, this makes me giggle. You and lovely husband have exactly the same tactic. He often laughs and tells me that he manages to get peace from them by "boring them with Dad facts until their eyes glaze over and they run off..."

    Me? I just tell them to ask Daddy...


  17. You remembered the word 'momentum' which sounds very official and technical and could actually be physics related. I think you did very well indeed. x

  18. I like simple and efficient answers too (ahem). I leave the detailed facts for their dad, it makes hime happy to answer them and he's so much better and the maths/science stuff than me... but if they ask about craft, well, I'm their go-to girl!

  19. Why not use their questions to turn their curiosity into a love of learning and research. Next time instead of answering the question give them the tools to find the answer.

  20. Oh yes. I usually do the "too much information" thing especially if it's something I'm interested in and as I warm to my topic I see their little faces completely lose interest.
    But I have been appallingly bad at my first "where do babies come from" questions. I had to go out and buy a book just to work out what to say. Ashamed to say I hemmed and hawed and fluffed and giggled my way through the first question but I wasn't expecting it for another year or so!
    An elegant way to give simple explanations with only the required information is what I need.

  21. ...And with all the "why?" questions, once I reach the end of what I can answer I have always ended with "because that's just the way it is." This seems to work. My daughter asked me a question recently and then said "Is that just the way it is?" Why yes!

  22. Just an afterthought. Do you know those books along the line of 1001-questions-children-ask ? Surprisingly , most of those questions are there . Along with a basic answer.
    There was one in my home as a child.It was only '100 questions' then.
    Mum's answer to the inevitable "why?" was...
    "Well...scientists are still trying to figure that one out."

  23. My whole life is in the quicksand it seems - luckily I also learned a whole heap of information about a whole heap of stuff when I was a kid. So did hubby.

    I'm better at arts, philosophy, history, popular culture and literature - while hubby's strengths are science, engineering, sci-fi, fantasy and general "boystuff". And there's the ancient set of kids' encyclopedias, the slightly less ancient set of Encyclopedia Brittanica and the interwebs. At least we're equipped! I think together we make a good team at getting through the tricky questions - for the next year or so.

    By the time the munchkin's 7 I may not be so confident.

  24. Hmmm 'I could tell you but then I'd be robbing you of your own learning process - google it!' Sadly this doesn't work with the three year old. For two reasons - her main objective is to talk, not to learn. And google only leads to more questions.


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