babies

The “Where do babies come from?” Question

9 May 2023
Posted by: Chelsea

Sooner or later, all parents or care providers will encounter this one!

Where do babies come from?

It is often sweet and funny but it can require some judgement calls.

Ages

There is no fixed age at which the first questions in this domain will arise. It’s not unusual to hear them for the first time at around 3-4 but it may be later.

At first, you may be able to ‘duck and dive’ the question if you so wish. Younger children have limited attention spans and will quickly move on.

However, as your child ages, they may ask for more detailed explanations and might be less likely to accept a diversion from the subject. Even if they have previously accepted at face value a very limited explanation, their evolving powers of reasoning and logic will probably incline them to ask increasingly pointed questions of parents or care providers. Many children aged around 4-7 might be pushing you for much more detailed answers.

Why do these questions arise?

Almost all children are naturally inquisitive. They’re working almost every waking minute trying to make sense of the world they’re growing into. That involves constant questions.

To a younger child, in principle, the origin of the babies question is no different to asking “why are too many sweeties bad for you?” or “why are insects different colours?”. They’re seeking information about things they’ve noticed in their world.

If they see a younger sibling arrive, they’ll probably be able to see the physical changes in their Mum over time and wonder what’s going on – and then put 2+2 together in terms of clues!

Even if they haven’t had direct exposure to pregnancy and birth, it is almost certain that they’ll have contact with other children in daycare centres or early school who have and rumours or half-truths will abound. Many will turn to their parents for explanations.

Parental responses

How a family responds to this growing curiosity will vary significantly depending upon things such as their personal beliefs, cultural backgrounds and values. As such, no ‘right age’ or ‘right story’ guideline can be given. Personal judgement will be required in all cases and inevitably, the maturity and age of the child will play a big part in deciding how you respond.

However, it’s worth keeping in mind an important ‘reality’ factor:

  • whether in daycare centres, playgroups, school or just their network of friends, children will possibly have contact with other children whose parents have provided a fairly open and factual description of the matter;
  • if your responses to your child’s questions are too evasive or fanciful, there is a risk they’ll think that friends are a more reliable source of information on the subject than their parents.

That situation is normally regarded by most childcare experts as being highly undesirable.

Generalities

  • Child development experts stress the role of individual parental choice here but there are some points of general agreement:
    the questions typically start around 3-4 years and are more physical along the lines of where babies grow and come from. Most children of these ages don’t care and don’t, therefore, need to have explained to them the details of how babies are made;
  • in the 3-4 age range, simple explanations like “it grows in mummy’s tummy” are usually all that’s required. The children will likely be happy with that and move on;
  • somewhere around 4-8, children may naturally start to question, in more detail, just ‘how it all works’ and may well bring home “I heard from a friend..” stories that are incorrect. It’s typically seen as advisable for the child to be given a factual description of the mechanics of reproduction, using correct medical terms for the body parts. Again, most children will accept this and immediately lose interest, moving on to more interesting subjects for them;
  • most experts recommend strongly against using made-up stories such as storks and also advise that good humour and matter-of-fact or “no big deal” tones are adopted;
  • children should never be discouraged from asking about human reproduction, told that the answer can wait indefinitely or be chastised/embarrassed for doing so. As mentioned previously, if they don’t get answers from their parents they’ll simply ask other children who may communicate values you might be uncomfortable with.

Typically, around the age of 9-12, children’s questions to their parents may start to become more oriented towards sexual life issues and are less associated with pregnancy mechanics, particularly if they understand those already. That evolution requires a different set of parental strategies!

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