Talking to Your Child About Difficult Topics
One of the most challenging part of parenting is having to talk to your child about difficult topics. It's hard enough as parents to have to explain to your child why their favorite toy accidentally got thrown out in the garbage or why their pet fish died. But when you start having conversations about heavy topics such as suicide, racism, school shootings, drugs and pornography, the conversations get tougher.
When it comes to difficult topics, there can be a temptation for parents avoid starting the conversation, or sweep it under the rug, hoping that kids won't notice. The reality is kids are being exposed to these topics through the news, social media, or in conversations with their peers. For these reasons, it is important that parents face this challenge head on. According to Common Sense Media, "addressing the tough stuff makes your kids feel safer, strengthens your bond, and teaches them about the world. And when you show them how to gather and interpret information, ask questions, and cross-check sources, they become critical thinkers. It's always sad to confront the issues the world hasn't been able to solve. But by investing our kids with knowledge, compassion, and strong character, we can give them all the tools they need to make things better."
How to bring up the conversation with kids, will depend on where they are at developmentally. How you begin the conversation with your 3-4 year old will sound much different talking to your 10 year old or teen ager. So, if you aren't sure where to begin, here is a sample script to help guide you.
Keep it simple – “Grandpa had to go to the hospital last night. The doctors tried to help, but his heart was too sick, and it stopped beating. He died this morning.”
Follow up by asking –“Do you have any questions?” or “It looks like you have some questions.”
Identify an emotion – “You seem angry.” or “It’s ok to cry. This is a very sad thing.”
Reiterate truth – “Cancer is not contagious.” or “Grandpa loved you very much.”
End by saying – “If you ever have any other questions or want to talk more about this, I’m here for you.”
Source: Imperfect Families Website
The American Psychological Association also suggests the following tips to help your guide your conversation:
Think about what you want to say. Don't feel the need to rush the conversation. Practice what you would say in front of a mirror. The more calm and comfortable you are, the more your child will remain calm.
Find a quiet time to lead the conversation. It is important that your child is the center of conversation and that there are no other distractions.
Find out what your child already knows and then spend time listening.
Share your own feelings with your child. Don't feel the need to protect your child from your feelings. You are human and have feelings too. Your child needs to see that.
Be honest. Let your child know the facts in a way that they understand without giving graphic details. It's also okay to say, "I don't know."
Reassure your child that you will do everything to keep them safe.
If you are having a hard time talking with your child or the crisis seems more than they can handle, seek professional help.
In addition to the tips listed above, here are a few additional resources that I want to share with you, especially if you are trying to figure out how to lead the conversation according to specific age ranges:
Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event: A Guide for Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
Finally, when it comes to talking about difficult topics with children, it is important that you take care of yourself. These topics can be stressful and overwhelming for parents and caretakers. Check out this link for some self-care tips!
As always, I am here for you! If you have questions or concerns about your child's social and/or emotional well-being, please do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.