Popular Science Monthly/Volume 43/June 1893/Children's Questions


MY little daughter is sitting very quietly on the floor beside me, busily engaged in arranging her colored house blocks in streets and lanes. She seems so completely absorbed in her play that I am careful not to speak to her, or even to look at her, lest I should disturb her. Suddenly, however, she drops her little houses and, looking earnestly at me with her blue eyes, she asks:

"Mother, does everybody die?"

"Yes, dear; everybody," I answer, struck by her question.

"The very good ones too?" she questions on timidly.

"Yes, the good ones too. God takes them to him because he loves them, and wants them to be with him in his beautiful heaven."

For a while the little one remains quiet; then again, coming up and nestling at my side, she says:

"Mother, wouldn't it be all the same to the loving God if he didn't take me into heaven, but left me always here with you?"

Drawing her closer to me, I try by caresses and loving words to calm all the doubts of her little heart. She is in an inquiring mood, however, and shortly begins anew:

"Mother, does the angel who brings the little babies carry them in a box or just in his hand?"

Unprepared for this question, I answer hesitatingly, "No, not in a box."

"But they have dresses on, haven't they?"

"No, darling, the little babies come naked into this world."

"But then, mother, how can the parents tell whether it is a girl or a boy?"

Once more I am at a loss, but make out to say, "Oh, we see that in their faces."

The little one is satisfied for the moment, for she turns again to her toys. Suddenly an idea strikes her. "Mother, father said the other day that I had the face of a boy. Perhaps I am not a girl at all." This time I can answer without hesitation: "No, dear, you are certainly mother's own dear little girl. But now don't ask any more questions, but come and help me to bake in the kitchen."

The child is quite content to do as I say, and, following me, devotes her mind with as much seriousness to the cooking, or rather to watching it, as she had before shown in trying to arrive at the origin of mankind. Truly, there is something wonderful in the growing mind of a child. The world and life are full of insoluble problems for the adult understanding, but to the mind of a child every new phase of things comes as a riddle and a mystery. What wonder, therefore, if in their struggle for knowledge, and the efforts they make to learn from the experience of their elders, their whole being becomes, as it were, one big, interminable question!

At times, of course, it can not be denied, the questions become irksome, but who would wish a child to ask no questions? Julius Sturm tells, in one of his pretty fairy tales, how a grandfather, driven into impatience by the constant questionings of his grandchild, exclaimed, "I wish your tongue were out of joint!" but when, unexpectedly, his wish was fulfilled, and the child became dumb, how he joyfully exchanged one of the two years which an angel had prophesied he was yet to live for the privilege of hearing the little one's prattle again.

A child whose questions are not answered by its parents will either turn to others who are willing to gratify its desire for knowledge, but who perhaps are unable to distinguish between what is good for a child to know and what is not, or else it will lose its fine natural susceptibility, and learn to look upon life in a dull, spiritless way, without interest or curiosity. Worse, however, than not answering a child's questions is to ridicule them. Nothing wounds a child so deeply as finding its inexperience abused and its earnestly-meant questions made the subject of mockery. How common a thing it is to hear a child's question impatiently and even contemptuously condemned as "silly"! Yet, in most cases of the kind, the silliness is not with the child, but with the older person who fails to understand how a child's mind works. Every child has involuntarily a feeling of distrust for grown-up people, which is only expelled through trust in the love of its parents. This trust once thoughtlessly abused and shaken may perhaps never be restored to its original purity and strength; and who could have the heart deliberately to impair such sweet confidence?

It is true children sometimes ask questions which it is not easy to answer, at least not in the short, simple form suited to the mind of the questioner. For example:

"Do the little sparrows know they are sparrows?"

"Do animals go to heaven, too?"

"Can God do everything?"

"Can he make my birthday come twice in one year?"

Or, again:

"Why does the fire burn?"

"Why is ice cold?"

To answer such questions may baffle our knowledge, but we should at least make an honest and patient effort to say something helpful. If we can not give all the light we could wish, we can at least give sympathy and encouragement.—Translated for The Popular Science Monthly from the German, by F. M. J.