Of course there will be times when it is inconvenient for the parent to attend to the questions of the child, and when he must, consequently, be debarred of the pleasure and privilege of asking them; but even at such times as these the disposition to ask them must not be attributed to him as a fault. Never tell him that he is “a little tease”—that “you are tired to death of answering his questions”—that he is “a chatter-box that would weary the patience of Job;” or that, if he will “sit still for half an hour, without speaking a word, you will give him a reward.” If you are going to be engaged, and so can not attend to him, say to him that you wish you could talk with him, and answer the questions, but that you are going to be busy and can not do it; and then, after providing him with some other means of occupation, require him to be silent: though even then you ought to relieve the tedium of silence for him by stopping every ten or fifteen minutes from your reading, or your letter-writing, or the planning of your work, or whatever your employment may be, and giving your attention to him for a minute or two, and affording him an opportunity to relieve the pressure on his mind by a little conversation.
Answers to be short and simple.
2. Give generally to children’s questions the shortest and simplest answers possible.
One reason why parents find the questions of children so fatiguing to them, is that they attempt too much in their answers. If they would give the right kind of answers, they would find the work of replying very easy, and in most of their avocations it would occasion them very little interruption. These short and simple answers are all that a child requires. A full and detailed explanation of any thing they ask about is as tiresome for them to listen to as it is for the mother to frame and give; while a short and simple reply which advances them one step in their knowledge of the subject is perfectly easy for the mother to give, and is, at the same time, all that they wish to receive.
For example, let us suppose that the father and mother are taking a ride on a summer afternoon after a shower, with little Johnny sitting upon the seat between them in the chaise. The parents are engaged in conversation with each other, we will suppose, and would not like to be interrupted. Johnny presently spies a rainbow on a cloud in the east, and, after uttering an exclamation of delight, asks his mother what made the rainbow. She hears the question, and her mind, glancing for a moment at the difficulty of giving an intelligible explanation of so grand a phenomenon to such a child, experiences an obscure sensation of perplexity and annoyance, but not quite enough to take off her attention from her conversation; so she goes on and takes no notice of Johnny’s inquiry. Johnny, accordingly, soon repeats it, “Mother! mother! what makes the rainbow?”
At length her attention is forced to the subject, and she either tells Johnny that she can’t explain it to him—that he is not old enough to understand it; or, perhaps, scolds him for interrupting her with so many teasing questions.