As part of WBEZ’s “Kids Ask” series, we are talking with kids, parents and experts about the tough questions asked by young children that adults don’t always know how to answer.
Five-year-old Elliot was getting ready for bed in his Chicago home recently when he asked his mom, “What is an opinion?”
His mother, Anel Ruiz, said the question came up because of something that happened in preschool that day.
“He was talking about his favorite color,” Ruiz said. “His favorite color at the time was blue … and he said that someone said, ‘Well, that’s your opinion.’ ”
Elliott found it confusing that blue wouldn’t be everyone’s favorite color.
Ruiz is no stranger to managing a lot of differing opinions. She previously served as press secretary to Mayor Lori Lightfoot. So Elliot’s question resonated with her.
“It really served as a moment for me to pause and think about how I reinterpret or simplify news and information for my kids,” she said.
Ruiz said she explained to Elliot that there are facts and there are opinions.
“Facts are true no matter what, like the Earth is round,” she told him. “And an opinion is what someone believes or thinks.”
Ruiz said Elliot uses her explanation when he’s talking about facts, like how dragons aren’t real even if someone might like them. Elliot also said he isn’t a fan of dragons, but that’s just his opinion.
As any parent knows, things can get heated in preschool when kids have different opinions, like what everyone thinks is the best color or the best food. Ruiz reminded Elliot that these are just different opinions, and that’s OK.
Ruiz said she’s relearned a lot through parenting, like extending grace and kindness. She said Elliot’s question has her checking herself. She tries to note when she’s giving her own opinion.
“Especially in these times when we can have divergent understandings around so many things,” she said. “But recognizing that just the fact that we see each other’s opinions and can acknowledge them as valid, goes a long way.”
An expert weighs in
Psychologist Marisha Humphries said an opinion can be a tough concept for young children to understand at first. Humphries is an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois Chicago. She said at this age, kids don’t fully understand that people think differently from them.
Humphries said it’s good to start by asking what the child thinks an opinion is and find out what they might already know. Then, as Ruiz did with Elliot, share some examples. Maybe the child remembers a time when someone said pizza was better than chicken nuggets.
“It’s really about starting with self and moving out,” she said. “And always connecting to what they already know or an experience they’ve already had. They’re much better able to start conceptualizing and thinking about it.”
She says it’s typical for kids to link opinions to relationships, as Elliot and his mom pointed out. Humphries says it’s a good opportunity to talk about what attributes make someone a good friend, such as kindness, taking turns, spending time together. Then kids can recognize that they don’t always have to like the same things as their friends, and that’s OK.
“We can still be kind and talk about respect,” Humphries said. “What does respect mean? Respect means still being kind and appropriate even if they think something different from you.”
Humphries says it’s important not to conflate kindness with allowing another person’s opinion to overpower others.
“We don’t want our kids allowing someone to dismiss them,” she said. “They can have a different option, but they can’t do things that say you’re not important, that don’t support your humanity.”
Humphries said these concepts can be hard to explain to young kids and emphasized that these conversations will evolve as children develop and learn more. She also said it’s valuable for parents to tell their kids where their own opinions come from and how they’ve come to embrace them.
We want to hear from you. Have you had to tackle some interesting questions from kids? All questions are welcome. Send a message to email@example.com.