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How to answer 6 of kids' toughest questions

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  • If they ask where people go when they die, talk openly about your perspective
  • To explain some science questions, conduct simple demonstrations
  • Be truthful and positive when telling them why you have to move
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Real Simple

(Real Simple) -- When kids stump you with one of these six questions, you can rely on these answers.

If your daughter asks why she wasn't invited to a party, explain the "queen-bee" syndrome, a psychologist says.

Why didn't I get invited to that party?
Short Answer: "Explain that the parents didn't have room or the money for everyone that the celebrating child wanted to invite, so some people couldn't go," says James Brush, Ph.D., a child psychologist in Cincinnati, Ohio, and a board member of the Ohio Psychological Association.

Long Answer: Around age 9, tell your daughter about the queen-bee syndrome, says Brush. "Say that girls look for ways to hurt each other socially and emotionally," he says. "By excluding someone, they're making themselves feel powerful." (Boys, Brush notes, are generally less emotional, and the short-answer explanation above is enough.) If you suspect this is an ongoing problem, look for social groups for your child, such as art clubs, sports teams, or music associations.

Where do people go when they die?
Short Answer: Until about age 9 or 10, the idea of the permanent nonexistence of someone who is important to the child is beyond his intellectual capacity, says Kyle Pruett, M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry and nursing at the Yale University Child Study Center. "A religious person might use the opportunity to begin to teach a child about heaven and hell or reincarnation or whatever beliefs are held by the family," he says. An agnostic or a nontheist might say, "We just don't know what happens after someone dies. It's one of the great mysteries people have been thinking about ever since they've been writing down words."

Long Answer: As they get older, kids are more aware of death and dying. Even if they haven't lost a family member or a pet themselves, they surely have classmates who have. "These kids are trying to decide what they believe, so they need as much information about your belief system as possible to help them make their own decisions," says Pruett. Have an open discussion with your kids about your perspective on what happens after a person dies. But you don't necessarily need to present a united front. "It's OK if you say you don't know or if each parent presents a different perspective," Pruett says.

How do thunder and lightning work?
Short Answer: Lighting and thunder happen for the same reason that you sometimes get a shock after walking across a carpet. Clouds (like carpet) become charged with electricity, and then a current forms to balance out the charge. The jolt of electricity causes a bright flash, which we see as lightning, and a loud sound, thunder, which takes longer to reach us because light travels faster than sound.

Long Answer: "A cloud full of warmth and moisture is up there in the cold atmosphere, and it keeps rising and expanding," says Howie Bluestein, a professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, and a contributor to DragonflyTV, a science show for kids on PBS. All that activity charges the particles in the cloud, and when enough particles become negatively charged and enough become positively charged, a lightning flash occurs. Sometimes the lightning moves electricity within a cloud, and sometimes it moves electricity between the earth and the atmosphere -- which is why trees and other tall objects can get struck by lightning. Fun trick: Estimate how far the lightning is from where you stand by timing the delay between the lightning and the thunder. Five seconds of delay equals about one mile of distance from the lightning strike.

Where do rainbows come from?
Short Answer: "On those rare occasions when the sun is shining and it's raining at the same time, the light shines through the raindrops, which separate it into all of its component colors," says Bluestein. Pick up a glass prism at a science store to show your kids the same effect.

Long Answer: Basically, the raindrops bend the light of the sun. The seven colors in sunlight each get bent slightly differently because they're different wavelengths. "It's like at the beach -- how longer waves travel faster than shorter ones," says Bluestein. "Different light waves travel at different speeds, too, and get affected differently by a prism or by raindrops." Still confused? Partially submerge a spoon in a glass of water and show your child how the water bends the light bouncing off the spoon.

Why do we have to move?
Short Answer: Explain the advantages of the move in terms your child will understand: "It will mean a better job for Daddy" or "It's closer to Aunt Sue." "Be truthful and positive," says Patty Barron, who has relocated her own family 16 times and is the director of the Youth Initiatives Department for the National Military Family Association, a nonprofit advocacy and education group for military families.

Long Answer: Have a heart-to-heart with your kids about the realities of the move -- maybe that a new job will mean more money for the family. "Moving is much harder for middle schoolers because peers are such an important part of their lives," says Barron. "Point out that moving is an opportunity to reinvent yourself -- you don't have any baggage and can start fresh." Take the kids to see the new house early on so they have a sense of the surroundings. Or take them on an online virtual tour of the town and the house.

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