Children ask a lot of questions. They’re supposed to. It is a cornerstone of learning. And I believe it is the duty of adults, parents, teachers, even the whole village, to answer those questions as honestly and unemotionally as we can. But it’s not always easy.
Now, I’m not talking about the kinds of questions which are asked as distractions (those are a different problem). I’m talking about the kinds of questions in which the child really does want an honest answer but where an honest answer can be embarrassing to the adult or a serious challenge to adult dignity.
If you have ever changed a diaper, cleaned up after a sick cat, or used a bedpan in a hospital ward you probably know that some situations require actions which are necessary but inherently undignified. It is in those moments in which we learn that dignity is carried in the heart and not dictated by circumstance.
When children are young and the questions are things like: “Daddy, why do I get boogers in my nose?” or “Mommy, why do Daddy’s farts smell so bad?” the challenge to dignity isn’t all that great. But as our children mature and the questions become more sexual in nature, far too many adults/teachers shy away in embarrassment from these assaults on adult dignity. Among the many embarrassing questions I’ve been asked, the following three questions stand out for me. They were serious questions asked in class. Although they challenged my dignity, I felt they were worthy of serious, dignified, honest answers.
I was asked: “Mr. D., what’s a stiffy?” “Mr. D., why do your nipples look like that?” and finally, “Mr. D., have you ever kissed a man?”