A PARENT’S GUIDE TO ANSWERING COMMON HEALTH QUESTIONS ASKED BY CHILDREN
Sometimes children have questions about their health. Therefore this article was written as a resource for parents, to help answer some of the most common health questions children ask. If you are a minor, please make sure you read this with the supervision of an adult.
Children are naturally curious, inquisitive, and observant of the world around them. Their curiosity typically starts with their health and bodies, discovering what they can feel and experience. They often ask questions that may seem simple but can be difficult to answer.
How can parents explain complex health topics to their children in a clear and accurate way? In this article, we will provide some tips and resources to help you answer some of the most common health questions that kids ask.
The Importance of Answering a Child’s Questions
Children need to ask frequent questions for proper growth and development. It is commonly cited that children may ask as many as 73 questions per day and up to 40,000 questions by the age of 5. Young children are especially curious and may even ask as many as 200-300 questions per day! This can be overwhelming, especially for hard-working parents who feel as though they can never catch a break. Be patient and understanding since children are still learning about the world and might not grasp everything you say at once. Explain things to them in simple terms so that it is easier for them to understand.
While some parents get tired of answering their child’s questions and may be tempted to avoid them, it is essential to enable the process and provide a truthful, age-appropriate answer. The need to ask questions all the time is related to the rapid growth and development of neuronal connections in children’s brains, which outpaces adults threefold. The benefits of answering these questions include encouraging your child to think and develop confidence in their ability to reason and explore. One study suggests that a child’s questioning starts to build a good foundation for a scientific mindset later in life and may even help to boost academic performance in school.
Answering children properly also strengthens the bond between the parent and child, which helps to navigate the same topic in the future or to phrase a question to ask kids about their health. This is particularly important when addressing health concerns, as a child’s questions about their body can guide the conversation moving forward, making it easier for both parent and child. It is important to be honest with children. If you do not know the answer to a specific question, tell them you will check and get back to them.
Why Taking Care of Our Bodies is Important
Addressing children’s health questions shapes the way they think about health and well-being. This, in turn, affects their future health, happiness, and approach to illness, preparing them to make healthy choices, deal with health challenges, and cope better with stress.
Studies show that children who are informed about good health habits are more inclined to adopt them, maintain a balanced weight, be less anxious or depressed, attend fewer doctor’s appointments, and be more physically active.
Health Questions Your Child Might Have and How To Answer Them
When answering children, you can encourage them by emphasizing how healthy habits help them to build a strong body, be smarter, fall ill less often, and play more often. It helps to take note of the aspect that motivates your child when explaining how being healthy is better for their bodies (e.g., makes them better at sports or maths, makes them invincible, or more like their role models).
Making use of simple, positive, and age-appropriate language when answering health questions is important, as well as setting a good example. Children are more likely to build healthy habits if they are associated with being fun and if their parents are doing them as well. Older children may revisit questions they asked when they were younger. Your response to these questions should be adjusted based on the child's age, and the type of question can guide how you answer it.
Common health questions for children may vary depending on the child’s age, curiosity, and exposure. The following section covers general guidelines on how to answer a child’s questions about their body and health.
What are germs, and why do I have to wash my hands?
Many parents find it difficult to talk to kids about hygiene. Children are not likely to know why they have to wash their hands or why it is so important. When asked, you can explain that they have to wash their hands with soap and water because it cleans the dirt and keeps germs away.
Germs are tiny living things that they cannot see, but that can make them sick if they get inside their bodies. It is good to emphasize washing hands before eating to avoid ingesting germs, as well as after using the bathroom or whenever their hands look or feel dirty. You can elaborate that germs like to live inside dirt, in stale food, on animals and people, or on unclean hands if they are not washed.
Why do I get sick?
While getting ill is unpleasant, it is essential not to explain illness to a child in a stressful way. Explain to your child in simple terms that they get sick when germs get inside their body, and in such a scenario, they might not feel well since their body is fighting off the germs. You can further elaborate that if the germs get into their nose or throat, they can make them cough, sneeze, or have a runny nose. It is important to let your child know that it is normal to feel tired when the body is fighting off germs. Getting sick is not fun, but it usually goes away after a few days.
At a time when the child is not feeling well, it can be good to link getting sick with washing hands and not spreading the germs to other people. You can remind them while coughing or sneezing why they need to cover their nose or mouth and why blowing their nose is important for getting rid of germs quicker.
How does my body fight off the germs?
This is a question the child is likely to ask in different ways as they grow older, and the answer will depend upon their level of understanding. For young kids, you might want to explain that the body is protected like a castle, with walls, gates, and guards. If they wash their hands often, the germs might battle to get past the walls and gates, which are the skin, eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. If they do, they have to fight the guards, which are the white blood cells. The body needs to work hard to fight the germs, and this can cause the body to run a fever, get itchy, or have aches and pains.
What happens when I get a fever?
Following on from the previous question and answer, a parent might find it useful to explain a fever as the body working hard to fight off the germs that make us sick. You can explain that it makes the body temperature higher than normal, which makes us feel hot, sweaty, and shivery. Also, you may add that a fever helps your body get rid of germs by making it too hot for them to stay, and the fever goes away after most of the germs have gone.
Why do I need to eat fruits and vegetables?
Children can be extremely fussy when it comes to food. When a child asks why they need to eat fruits and vegetables, they may feel reluctant or want to understand why it is important. You can explain to them that it is helpful to eat fruits and vegetables because their bodies will use them to grow stronger and fight off germs.
A discussion on fruit and vegetables is a great opportunity to teach kids about nutrition as well. Children are often more motivated to eat when involved in the prep work. You can encourage them more by making it a fun and playful process. Direct their attention to the colors, shapes, and tastes of each food to highlight their uniqueness and that the body needs a little of each every day. Avoid using foods as rewards, especially unhealthy foods, as this can be a cause for emotional eating later on.
If the child is old enough or asks how fruits and vegetables make them healthier, you might be able to explain that each one holds different vitamins, minerals, and fiber that make them healthy and give them particular colors, shapes, and tastes. Examples that might be appropriate include calcium being good for the bones and vitamin C helping the body fight germs.
Why do I have to brush my teeth?
Similarly to hand washing, brushing teeth is vital for hygiene and health, yet equally as confusing to a young child. You can explain that just like hand washing, brushing the teeth keeps them clean, removes food particles that stick to the teeth, and keeps germs away. Germs can make holes in the teeth called cavities that can make them sore. Brushing the teeth with toothpaste keeps them strong and healthy so they can chew. You might like to emphasize that it makes their smile look nicer.
Why do I need to get enough sleep?
If children resist sleep too often, it can increase the risk of insomnia later on and pose dire consequences for their mental well-being. Children might be motivated to get enough sleep if they understand that it helps the body and brain become supercharged for the next day, like recharging a battery or device. If explaining close to bedtime, try not to over-excite them, or it may cause them to get restless while trying to fall asleep.
You can explain that sleep aids in the body's healing process, whether it is mending cuts or bruises or promoting a sense of well-being when fatigued, moody, or unwell. Kids might enjoy that sleeping can make their brains grow bigger, as the brain stores all the things they learned that day when they are sleeping.
How does exercise help my body?
When talking about exercise, keep in mind that exercise should not sound like a chore. Children often do a lot of exercise without realizing it has benefits. You can inculcate a habit of exercising by pointing out how it benefits their bodies, making them invincible like superheroes or like mom and dad. Emphasize that exercise can be fun and can include activities that make them sweat, such as running, jumping, dancing, or playing games with their friends.
If you workout, mention how exercise helps your body by making it stronger and more flexible. When you exercise, you move your muscles, bones, and joints, which helps them grow and work better. Older children might be able to understand that exercise makes your heart beat faster, and your lungs breathe deeper, which helps to get fresh air, oxygen, and nutrients to all parts of your body. You feel good, have fun, and release stress when you exercise.
How does a band-aid help a cut?
If your child already understands about hand washing, germs, and getting sick, a band-aid can be easily explained to them. A band-aid helps a cut by protecting it from germs and dirt. You could explain that without a band-aid, germs might get inside the body through cuts and bruises and make us sick. This is also why it is a good idea to wash the cut before using a band-aid. If the child has a cut that is bleeding, you can show how the band-aid stops the bleeding, which helps the cut to mend faster and feel better.
What is a vaccine, and why do I need it?
With the COVID pandemic, even very young children are aware of vaccines. While this might seem more appropriate for older children to ask, do not be surprised if even your 3-year-old is wondering what a vaccine is.
One of the best ways to answer this question for children is to explain that vaccines are a special type of medicine that stops them from getting very sick. Older children might like to know that vaccines can train the guards in the body (the white blood cells) to be better at fighting off some of the worst kinds of germs. If enough people get vaccines, it stops the germs from spreading to people who are not able to fight them properly.
If the child is curious enough about them, you can say that a vaccine gets medicine inside the body through a shot or injection. It is a bit like a pinprick and might hurt a little bit, but only for a few seconds. You might not feel very well after having a vaccine while your body is training to fight off germs. This is normal and helps your body to get stronger.
Children are constantly exploring and exceptionally curious, able to ask tens to hundreds of questions on a daily basis. Questions kids ask about their health and their body can be some of the most difficult to answer. Nevertheless, it is vital to answer them to build an ongoing conversation that seeds their relationship with health over the course of their lifetime.
-  https://amorebeautifulquestion.com/makes-curious-kids-question-much-book-excerpt/
-  https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01717/full
-  https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/149/Supplement%206/e2021053852M/186939/Interventions-for-Health-and-Well-Being-in-School
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