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Navigating Life's Toughest Questions With Your Kids

Air Date 10/27/2015

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Authors and speakers Elyse Fitzpatrick and her daughter Jessica Thompson offer parents age-appropriate and biblically-based responses to some of their children's most challenging life questions.

Episode Transcript



Child #1: Why does God have war going on?

Child #2: Why do some things bad happen?

Child #3: Why do you make us get sick?

Child #4: Why does God make bombs and bad guys?

Child #5: Why does God make parents?

Child #6: Why did You make germs?

Child #7: Why does God make things that scare us?

End of Teaser

John Fuller: Well, navigating those big questions of life is a really hard thing. We're gonna help you do that on today's "Focus on the Family" and joining us is mother-daughter team, Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson and I'm John Fuller. Your host is Focus president, Jim Daly.

Jim Daly: You know, John, it's great to hear the sweet voices of children, but sometimes those questions that they ask can be tough and you don't expect it and oftentimes, for moms and dads, they're gonna ask a question that comes out of nowhere like those ones we just heard. You wouldn't expect it and today's program, we're gonna talk about how to be ready for it, not to be caught off guard, how to be age appropriate and really how to deal straightforwardly with these questions in an age-appropriate way.

John: And Elyse and Jessica are first-time guests here on "Focus on the Family." They've co-authored a book called Answering Your Kids' Toughest Questions and the subtitle is, Helping Them Understand Loss, Sin, Tragedies and Other Hard Topics. And they both have degrees in theology. Elyse and her husband, Phil have been married for almost 40 years. Jessica and her husband, Cody have three children, as well.


Jim: Elyse and Jessica, welcome to "Focus on the Family" for the first time.

Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson:  Thank you.

Jim: Now you are a mother-daughter team, so we need some of the stories right out of the gate. What was that like, that first question, Elyse, that Jessica asked you as a 3-, 4-, or 5-year-old that threw you?

Elyse: Well, yes, Jessica was always very compliant.

Jim: I don't see that. (Laughter)

John: Oh!

Elyse: She never would ask the really hard questions. Jessica was always trying to fly under the radar and I mean, I think as she got older, she asked hard questions.

Jim: Well, let me ask you that about temperament, because what you're saying there is temperament plays into the, maybe the questions your kids will ask. So, did your other two sons, correct?

Elyse: Yes.

Jim: How did they respond?

Elyse: Yes, they were the question askers and particularly our first son, James. He had a question for everything. So, I mean honestly, he would ask if you piled ants on top of each other (Laughter), how many ants would it take to get to the moon? And he—

Jim: Well, of course your answer is—

Elyse: --was hiding—

Jim: --4 million.

Elyse: --yeah, well, yes I'll send you to the moon, honey and then you can figure it out.

Jim: Okay, it's a good thing. Sometimes parents can get irritated, 'cause—

Elyse: Correct.

Jim: --we're busy and we're movin' and kids do have usually an appetite to ask questions. It's the modality that they're in. They're wanting to know more. It's a good thing and something that we have to encourage in our children, right?

Jessica: It is a good thing and I think it's not just that we're busy. I think sometimes there's fear in there, that maybe parents don't know how to answer those tough questions. And so, because they feel that fear, then you want to, you know, brush it aside or blow 'em off or try to change the subject, 'cause maybe you're afraid that you don't know the right way to answer and you kinda feel that panicky feeling, which for me, when I start feelin' that, then I get a little angry, you know. And then I'm like, "Oh, we're not gonna talk about that right now."

So, I think that it's not just that parents are busy. Parents are busy and we have a lot of distractions around us, but I think there's another component to that, that maybe we don't think about, that parents just don't know how to answer and so, then they don't want to answer.

Jim: Well, let's dig into that for a second, because we need to equip parents today. That's what we're trying to do, to help them be ready. So, is saying, "I don't know" okay?

Elyse: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I think that's the best thing to do, because kids need to know that you can be a person of faith and yet, not have every answer for every question. And so, there are times when things happen, when my mother-in-law was dying, we had questions there about how that was happening. And I didn't know the answer to why the Lord was doing what He was doing in overseeing that.

And kids are gonna have questions, as well and so, we want to let kids know that it's completely acceptable for us to say, "I don't know and not only do I not know, but there are times in my life even though I've been a Christian for almost a half a century—that sounds like a long time—(Laughter) there are times that I doubt and I see things and I don't understand. And I think kids need to know that and they need to know that faith does not mean I have an answer for everything. Faith means that I trust God even in the dark.

Jim: Well, what was that answer though? Let's role play that. Maybe apply an age-appropriate, you know, filter there, if that child is 3 to 5 and grandma is passing away, how would you do that?

Jessica: So, for a 3- to 5-year-old, when my grandmother was dying and she went through dementia, so didn't know them and she was scared all the time and angry.

Jim: That must have scared you.

Jessica: Yeah, it was awful, because she had always been the most peaceful, loving, just God-glorifying woman you'd ever met in your life.

Jim: And all of a sudden—

Jessica: So—

Jim: --she's a different person.

Jessica: --totally different person, accusing us of stealing, that kind of thing. I was scared being around her. And then for my children, watching their great grandmother go through this, this woman that they'd always known as being soft. We called her "Candy Grandma," 'cause every time they were around, she'd give candy.

Jim: That's sweet.

Jessica: So, yeah, so I had to talk to my daughter who was, I think like 6 at the time and talk to her, "Baby, here's what's happening. I'm scared, too. This is hard for me, too." And I don't want to come in with just this like my mom was saying earlier, this sort of, "Oh, everything's gonna be okay and we're gonna conquer this." No, this is real. This is heartbreaking. This is hard, but we have a good God. We have Someone Who cares.

Jim: Well, it's important right there, the distinction you're making, because a lot of parents will want to look tough--

Jessica: Right.

Jim: --to have it together for their 6-year-old—

Jessica: Right.

Jim: --so that they don't create more fear—

Jessica: Right.

Jim: --and you know, that's understandable, but you're saying, be real—

Jessica: Yes.

Jim: --age-appropriately—

Jessica: Right.

Jim: --with your own emotions.

Jessica: Right.

Jim: 'Cause kids will pick that up won't they?

Jessica: Right.

Jim: They'll know mommy or daddy is not in sync with what their face is tellin' me.

Jessica: Exactly, so not only are you lying, you're trying to be the hero—

Jim: Right.

Jessica: --and we have a hero. Our kids don't need us as the hero. They need Jesus Christ. They need to know that there's a God that is strong enough to handle their fears and their doubts.

Jim: Huh, that's really good.

Jessica: So, yeah, I don't want to set up my faith as the end all. I want to set up God's sovereignty and His love for them as the end all. That's what I want to do with that. So, in that moment, I can say to her, "I don't completely understand this. I don't know why great grandma would have to go through this, but here's what I do know. I know my God. I know our God and He's good and He's loving and He's powerful."

Jim: Elyse, you know, talking about young children and their ability to absorb that kind of honesty, sometimes they'll take it at face value. Okay, mommy or daddy, okay. That's comforting to them. Talk now about the 15-year-old, who is saying, you know, "I'm now strugglin' in my faith because of what happened to grandma."

Elyse: Yes.

Jim: "Why would He let her suffer like that?" It's deeper—

Elyse: Yes.

Jim: --more complex. How do you speak to that teenager?

Elyse: Yes and again, it's being very, very honest with the teenager who says, "I don't understand how a God Who you have said is good and loving and wise and powerful, how can a God like that allow something like this to happen to one of His children?"

And to which I can respond, "I know who God is. I know what His character is." And 15-year-olds understand those kinds of words. "I know what God's character is. I know what His Word has said, but I don't know in this very instance, why this thing is going on."

But again, we tell our children, "Sweetie, we don't have to have answer for every single question. No one has answers for every single question aside from the Lord. What we do have though is confidence in the One Who loves us enough to have sent His Son to die in our place and Who raised that Son from the dead, which tells us that right now grandma is suffering, but there will come a day when we will see her again as the great-grandma we've always known."

And I was having a conversation with the 16-year-old about the new earth and what we're going to get to do on the new earth and he was so sweet. He said, "But Mimi, that means you'd have to die."

Jim: Right.

Elyse: And as if, you know, he was afraid to tell me I was gonna have to die. He was so sweet and I said, "Honey, of course, I am. Of course, I am, but this isn't all there is." So, again, with someone who's a teenager, if they're asking those questions, then respect them enough to be honest and say, "I don't understand this. I don't understand why there's a tsunami that wipes out 250,000 people. That doesn't make sense to me. I know the grid. I know that this world isn't as it should be, but I also know God and what He has promised.

Jim: Well, in fact, in your book, Answering Your Kids' Toughest Questions, you suggest using a grid, maybe you're referencing that there—

Jessica: Yes.

Jim: --to frame the answers that you give your children. Talk about that grid concept. What are you trying to accomplish with that?

Jessica: So, with any question that your kid comes to you with, we have a basic paradigm that you can walk them through. So, even if you don't know the exact answer for that question, here's what we start with, Creation. How did God create the world? How did He initially intend it to be? So, when we say "natural disasters," in fact, they're actually unnatural disasters, because it's not how it was intended to be. So, we start with Creation; how did God originally intend it to be? He didn't intend anybody to suffer from dementia. That was not how it was in the beginning.

But what happened after that? Well, the Fall, the Fall happened. And I tell my kids all the time, wherever sin goes, tears follow. So, you have the Fall and that changed everything, right? That changed creation. That changed our bodies. That changed our minds. It changed everything.

But that's not where it ends, which is good news for us, because then there is redemption. Christ came to redeem us here, so yes, there is the Fall and things are hard, but He's come into this world. He's experienced the Fall. He knows what it's like for us. He sympathizes with our weaknesses. So, there's redemption.

And then finally, consummation. One day this'll all be different. Like my mom was talking about, there will be a new heaven and a new earth and we will go back to the way it intended to be, no more tears, no more sadness, no more death, just perfect happiness and peace with our God.

Jim: You know, it's like how Jesus spoke to the disciples, you know, whether it was the fig tree. You take those moments day by day.

Jessica: Yes.

Jim: That's how you build into your child's faith account--

Jessica: Right.

Jim: --to give them perspective and how to measure this world in a way that honors the Lord and draws them closer to the Lord.

Jessica: Right.

Jim: And I love that. I love that kind of storytelling and teaching as you move through the day. These can be really difficult questions though. What about the broken home and I say that and I know we get responses from people. Our home is not broken. Yes, we had a divorce, but we're talking from that perspective. There is brokenness in that environment, especially for your children. How do you explain why mommy or why daddy's no longer here?

Jessica: Right, well, and I would say, you start off by saying, even Christian homes where both parents are there and everything seems amazing, they experience brokenness, as well. So, every home, Creation, how was it intended to be? One man, one woman and everything's amazing.

[The] Fall, well, now there's brokenness. So, even in a good home, there's a dad and a mom that sin. So, you talk to your kids about that. What happens in those homes where there's divorce? Well, it's not the way it was intended to be, but there's redemption. Jesus Christ came into the worst situation, went through the worst death and redeemed it, used that awful situation to give us our salvation.

So, He can take the most desperate broken situations and use them for His glory and actually, He promises that He's gonna do that with us.

Elyse: And knowing that, doesn't mean that there's not pain there.

Jessica: Right.

Elyse: And part of the Fall, part of the fallenness of the world is that we all experience pain. I mean, I've been married for decades and my husband is a godly elder in our church, but we sin against each other and there's pain there and—

Jim: That's true.

Elyse: --but as believers we can know that in some way that perhaps we don't even see right now, God is going to use the difficulties and the suffering that we're going through in His redemption, in His way to redeem others around us. So, for the child who grows up in a broken home, I grew up in a broken home. My father left our home very early on and my mother worked sometimes two jobs the whole time I was growing up. I was a latch key kid, one of those kinds of, you know, childhoods.

But in a way, the Lord used that as a way to draw me to Himself. You know, we think that the way the Lord draws us to Him is through our perfect families and great families are wonderful, but the Lord used my longing for a father as a way to bring me to Himself. So, see, even in that brokenness, the Lord used it for redemption.

John: Elyse Fitzpatrick is speaking and Jessica Thompson also with us here on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and the book our guests have written is Answering Your Kids' Toughest Question and we've all been there, when our children ask things that are very difficult to answer or impossible to answer. And it's a great resource for you. We'll suggest you get that and a CD or a download of this conversation for reference at

Jim: John, you've got the whole range of kids, too—12 to 27, right?

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: So, what's a question that they may have asked you that was a little [hard].

John: You know, the one that comes to mind, Jim is that horrible morning of September 11th. I was getting ready for work and when the news kinda was breaking on the radio, I went down and turned on the TV and we had a whole houseful of middle-school and younger kids and we watched and that raised, of course, a host of questions. What's happening? Why would somebody do something like this? If it was intentional? And just all the horrible images and stories from that day.

So, there were a lot of "why" questions about, why are those people doing that? Why would somebody do that? And why would God allow it?

Jim: Well, how far into the explanation of all that, 'cause that's complex, do you go?

John: Yeah.

Jessica: Well, it depends on the age range, right? So, with a 3- to 5-year old, you can be as simple as, "Oh, baby, people do awful things. That's why we need Jesus so badly, because that sort of anger resides in hearts and we need Jesus. We need a Savior," something as simple as that, where we're broken; we need a Savior. That's great for a 3- to 5-year-old.

Everywhere sin goes, tears follow, so when a sin takes over your heart and it's all you think about, you're gonna cause destruction. And it may be on a big scale like September 11th or it may be something really small. So, you talk to them like that with a 3- to 5-year-old.

And as they get older, you can be more specific, where with a teenager, you can [s]tart talking to them about the religion, a different religion that causes people to think this is the best way to deal with someone who doesn't believe the same way you do, right? So, you go all the way through those age ranges.

John: I want to protect my younger children. Should I have turned off the TV for a 6-year-old in that moment?

Jessica: I think you need to know your kids, okay? So, I can say to you, I don't know. It depends on how your 6-year-old would respond. There is no pat answer for each of these kids and I think this is so important, because as parents, we just want a script to read and it's not that easy. I want a script to read. It's not that easy.

Know your kids. Know if someone struggles with the fear of death or is afraid of being hurt when they go out in public and then tailor your conversation to that. That's an important thing. Know how to talk to your kids.

So, my 16-year-old son, he learns in a completely different way than my 11-year-old daughter, who has special needs, okay.

Jessica: So, I have to know how to talk to my 16-year-old and then how to talk to my 11-year-old. And even when he was 11, I could talk to him in a completely different way than I talk to her. So, know your children. Maybe your 6-year-old isn't mature enough or maybe they're really mature and you can have a really deep, good conversation. Know your kids. Know their needs. Talk to them. And you know what else? You can pray that the Holy Spirit leads you in the conversation and He will do that.

Jim: I think especially with older kids, too, they're gonna be asked questions. I'm anticipating that with my boys. You know, they come from a strong Christian home. They'll be in a classroom, I'm sure, where either the teacher or maybe a student is kinda goin' at 'em a little bit about what it is they believe. In fact, Elyse, you had a grandson, I think, texted you during school.

Elyse: Yeah.

Jim: And the question, if you can tell us, sounded like it came from a conversation he was in the middle of.

Elyse: Yes and he was actually in the middle of a conversation with a friend, not real close friend, but a friend who was telling him that evolution was true and how could he be so stupid as to believe in something like that. And so, Wesley was texting me then during class and asking me, I don't know if you're supposed to deal with that.

Jessica: Probably not. (Laughter)

Elyse: No, so then, there's a right.

John: He was texting after class.

Jessica: That's right.

Elyse: Yes, yeah, in between classes (Laughter).

Jim: Mom just got a look on her face like, what?!

Jessica: Like no!

Jim: Hey, but sometimes when you need help, you throw out a lifeline.

Elyse: Yes and asking me, how do I talk to this person about this? You know and so, that was really lovely. I wonder if I can come back to something Jessica was talking about just because we were talking about worldview and when Jessica was young and I said that she was compliant, but there were times when she was not compliant and our teenagers don't necessarily want to hear it when we want to give them worldview.

But when Jessica was about 15 or so, when we would go to the movies, my husband and I would always sort of download the kids afterwards and say, "Okay, what was the worldview of that movie?"

Jim: Uh-hm.

Elyse: What are they saying in that movie? What are they saying is true? What are they saying is worth living for? And one time I said, "What's the worldview of the movie?" She had come home from a movie and I said, "Okay, so what was the worldview?" And she said, "Mom," and she rolled her eyes, "Mom, you know, everything doesn't have a deeper meaning," like that. Didn't you?

Jessica: Yes, mother, I did. (Laughter)

Elyse: But was interesting to me then, fast forward now 20 years, she's talkin' to her children about worldview. So, my encouragement to parents is, a lot of times you think your teenagers aren't listening to you and perhaps they're even resistant or rolling their eyes when you're talking. A lot of that by the power of the Holy Spirit, is getting into their heart and so, later on they're gonna draw on it when it's … when it's not mom saying it. Now it's them saying it to their children.

Jim: And what's the parental advice there? Stay consistent is what—

Elyse: Stay—

Jim: --I'm hearing—

Elyse: --consistent.

Jim: --and make sure you're—

Elyse: Yes.

Jim: --expressing it—

Elyse: Yes.

Jim: --a way that is kind and loving.

Elyse: Yes, yes.

Jim: But yeah, they'll reflect on those comments. Obviously with Jessica, it worked.

Jessica: Right and I think stay consistent is good, but also think rely on the Holy Spirit to do His work. Like He's got a plan for your family, so yes, continue to do what you're doing. Say those things to your children, but ultimately, your words don't save your children. What saves your children is the Holy Spirit. So, rely on Him. Pray to Him. Ask Him to redeem your children's lives. It's good to have the right answers. It's good to say, "We believe what the Bible says about this." Those are right and good and we should do 'em, but those words, you saying those words don't save your kids. It's His work. He has to be the one that makes a dead heart alive.

Jim: In your book you talk about stories of the Bible that it's not a G-rated book, is it--

Elyse: No.

Jim: --the Bible? I mean, there are lots of things in there that when you are tryin' to talk to your children, my boys and I, we try to read Proverbs together almost every day.

Elyse: Yes.

Jim: And there's some of those Proverbs that get into some dicey age-sensitive topics.

Elyse: Yes, yes.

Jim: How do you go about explaining those difficult concepts in the Bible where they're talking about prostitution and other things to your kids?

Elyse: Or even the book of Judges, which you know, if you were going to read the book of Judges, if it was written as a fiction book, you wouldn't let your children read it--

Jim: Right.

Elyse: --because of the things that are in it, like the story of the man who had a concubine, who is like sort of a kind of extra wife. And he's traveling and long story, goes into a village that has no place to spend the night. Spends the night at someone's house. The men of the village come and want to have relations with the man. The homeowner says, "No, take my virgin daughter and take the man's concubine." All right, now why is that story in God's Word?

Well, first of all, what that story tells us is, what are people like when they live someplace where there is no king and everyone does what's right in their own eyes? And that is the refrain that we hear over and over again in the book of Judges. There was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

So, the difficult stories in the Bible tell us first of all, what are people like who need redemption? And then the next thing that, that story tells us is, what is our God like, who would provide redemption for human beings who would do something like this?

So, just because a story is in the Bible, doesn't mean that we're supposed to pattern our life after it. And one of the things that we like to say over and over again is, there's only one hero in the Bible and it's not Abraham or Moses or David or Peter or Paul, even though they were men of faith. There's one hero in the Bible and it's Jesus Christ and Jesus came to redeem people who would do very wicked things, have numbers of wives, multiply wives, treat people, enslave people, treat people wickedly. That's the reason for the stories in the Bible, simply to tell us, this is what people are like without the Redeemer, but a Redeemer has come.

Jim: I think one of the key points as we have discussed this topic of how to talk to your kids age appropriately about the very difficult questions of life, is that we're here for you, too, here at Focus on the Family. We have caring counselors who can help you in that discussion. We've got resources such as this book that we're talking about today by Elyse and Jessica, Answering Your Kids' Toughest Questions and you know, Deuteronomy 6:7 says, "You shall teach them," meaning these rules, these ways, "diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise."

That is kinda what we're talkin' about today. Don't overlook an opportunity to pursue your child, to go after your child in some very tender areas. Have the courage to talk about these things, so that God can plant seeds in their heart and the Holy Spirit can bring that to harvest someday. It has been great talkin' with both of you. Thanks for bein' here.

Jessica: You're welcome.

Elyse: Yeah.


John: Well, some great encouragement from our guests today to take advantage of those teachable moments. And their resource can help you do just that and so, we'll suggest you get a copy of Elyse and Jessica's excellent book, Answering Your Kids' Toughest Questions and perhaps a CD of this conversation or a download so you can listen again. And we've got those at .

And if you can join our partnership team, if you can support the ongoing work of Focus on the Family to come alongside and help you as a parent, to equip you to be able to shepherd your child and nurture them and grow them to adulthood, then we'd invite your financial gift today. And when you donate today, we'll send you that book as our way of saying thank you for your generosity. You'll find resources and ways to donate at the website or when you call 800, the letter A and the word, FAMILY; 800-232-6459.

Well, thanks for listening today. Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow. We'll hear from Ron Deal about challenges that blended families have, particularly the marriage relationship and ways to strengthen that tie, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

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Elyse Fitzpatrick

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Elyse Fitzpatrick holds an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Trinity Theological Seminary. She is a popular speaker at women's conferences and is the author of more than 20 books on daily living and the Christian life, including Found in Him, Comforts From Romans and Good News for Weary Women. Elyse and her husband, Phil, have five grown children and six grandchildren. Learn more about Elyse at her website,


Jessica Thompson

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Jessica Thompson is a popular conference speaker and the author of several books including Exploring Grace Together and Answering Your Kids' Toughest Questions. She is also co-author (along with her mother, Elyse Fitzpatrick) of Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids With the Love of Jesus. Jessica and her husband have three children and reside in California. Learn more about Jessica at her website,