As parents, we give and receive this advice quite frequently.
When should I introduce solid food? When your baby starts reaching for your green beans or chicken, he's ready to try some. He'll tell you when he's ready.
When should I start potty training? When your toddler starts showing interest in the potty, it's time to sit her on it. She'll tell you when she's ready.
When should I teach my child to read? When you child grabs a book and starts pretending to read, he's ready to learn. He'll tell you when he's ready.
When should I teach my child the birds and the bees? When your child starts to ask questions about where babies come from, she's ready to hear an "age appropriate" answer. She'll tell you when she's ready.
"They'll tell you when they're ready. "
What does this mean?
When we give this advice to another parent, we are generally trying to encourage them not to worry. We are encouraging the parent to wait until the child gives some sort of signal... grabbing the fork, sitting on the kiddy potty, pretending to read a book, or asking if he was in Mommy's tummy just like baby sister. But does this advice work for everything? Let's face it, if many of us waited for our children to tell us they were ready for vegetables or ready to learn to clean their rooms, we'd still be waiting for the signal when they left for college! On the other hand, sometimes we get signals we aren't sure what to do with, are intimidated by, or seem to be "age inappropriate." By age inappropriate, I mean that our child is asking questions about things that our culture has decided are above their comprehension for thier age so we have no guideline for discussing these topics with our children. This seems to happen most often with topics of spiritual signifigance. When do you start talking to your children about topics like sin, redemption, death, and sanctification?
I believe in this situation, where a child is asking a question about a topic you feel he is too young to understand, you answer the question... or at least try to. Lest you respond, "That's easy for her to say." Here are some questions that our kids have asked Frodo and I recently (after each question, I have indicated which child asked it and how old he/ she is):
"Why did God create light first?" (Terzo, 5)
"What would happen if lightening hit our car and we all died?" (Terzo, 5)
"Why would someone steal a kid?" (Primo, 9)
"Why did God make butterflies if they only live for 2 weeks?" (Secondo, 7)
"Why did the Stone Table break after Aslan came alive again?" (Primo, 9)
"Why does God let tornados kill people?" (Primo, 9)
"How come there aren't any more dinosaurs?" (Secondo, 7)
"How come different books about dinosaurs say different things about why they died and what they looked like?" (Secondo, 7)
"How come Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil when God told her not to?" (Terzo, age 5)
"Will you die?" (Primo, 9; Secondo, 7; Terzo, 5)
"Will I die?" (Primo, 9; Secondo, 7; Terzo, 5)
We did our best to answer their questions and pray for wisdom in answering those that will inevitably come up in the future.
Our children will let us know when they are ready to face some of life's hard questions. But I have learned some things through my children's questions... I don't know all of the answers, I probably never will, and I don't ask enough questions myself but it is important that I ask. Asking questions and searching for answers (sometimes receiving them and sometimes not) matures us. If I stop questioning, I stop growing.
Have I stopped asking?
Have you stopped asking?
Does this mean we are not ready for the answers?
Or does it just mean that we are hiding from the responsibility required of us when our questions are answered?