Helpful Tips for Talking to Your Children About Difficult Topics
One of the toughest jobs we do as parents is talking to our children about difficult subjects. It’s hard enough to explain common family issues like divorce or loss to our little ones. But facing important global issues such as violence, disasters, and tragedy can feel impossible to put into words.
In our current world of 24-hour news coverage, pocket-sized computers, and nonstop notifications, our young children are undoubtedly being exposed to some serious topics. While every child and situation is going to be unique, avoiding discussing these issues with your kids can actually cause them even more distress.
The Importance of Talking to Your Kids About Tough Topics
Avoiding discussing tougher topics with your children can leave them with misunderstandings or fears that are not being properly addressed. As parents, you are the first line of support for your children, and during hard times you want them to feel comfortable turning to you for guidance and reassurance. To create an environment where they feel comfortable doing so, it is very important to engage your child in open discussions about their feelings and concerns from an early age.
Establishing this open line of communication about tough issues helps younger minds develop deeper understandings, independent opinions, and positive coping skills.
The following seven tips and strategies can help make talking to your children about difficult topics a little easier for both of you:
1. Consider the Environment
When starting to approach a difficult subject with a child, we encourage doing so in an environment that is comfortable for everyone.
Finding an ideal environment for a hard conversation can be tricky for a number of reasons. For instance, has your little one ever prompted a tough convo with a spontaneous question in the middle of a grocery store? Next time you are out and about and your child catches you off guard with a touchy topic, consider saving the conversation. Simply acknowledge the question or topic and express excitement to discuss it when you return home.
This will ensure you and your child have a safe space to talk freely, with fewer distractions and more comfortable surroundings.
2. Be Aware of Your Emotional State
More often than not, you will also be emotionally affected by some of these difficult topics or issues, and that can make supporting your child through them even more of a challenge. While it is important to be honest about your emotions, it’s best to have these conversations without getting overwhelmed or having a negative emotional outburst. If you need a break from the conversation, or simply more time to cope and come to terms with this topic, that is always okay.
This ensures you are able to have a calm discussion and provide your child with support, while reassuring them they are safe and everything is going to be okay.
This can also work as a teachable moment for your children. By remaining composed while also acknowledging you are angry, scared, or sad, you are demonstrating that even hard feelings can be expressed calmly.
3. Find Out Your Child’s Thoughts About the Topic
A great starting point in any difficult conversation is to ask your child their current understanding, feelings, or fears surrounding the topic at hand. Knowing their specific concerns and existing knowledge on the matter puts you in a better position to be more reassuring and provide more insight.
They might have been exposed to the issue already, but may not have a true or full understanding of it yet. Ask them what they have heard or seen already, or if they have any specific questions or concerns about the topic. Keep your questions as direct and open-ended as possible. Encourage them to ask any questions they may have, as well.
4. Observe Your Child’s Emotions
Pay extra attention to their body language and behavior during difficult talks. Do they seem anxious, distant and distracted, or even numb and shut-down? These may be indicators that they are not ready to discuss this issue. In this case give them plenty of reassurance that they are safe and that they can come to you when they feel ready.
Never force a conversation if they don’t seem ready to discuss it yet. Open the line of communication, but don’t push them out of their comfort zone.
5. Always Tell Your Child the Truth
There wouldn’t be much use in having these discussions with your child if you feel you need to be dishonest to them about it. Consider that, if you feel like you must lie about something or hide the truth, you may not be ready to have the conversation. Lay out the facts of the matter in terms they will understand and leave out any graphic or unsettling details they won’t benefit from being told.
When talking about tough issues, always communicate your feelings openly. This can help them to identify their own feelings as well as understand that these emotions are okay.
6. Give Your Child Reassurance and Support
Above all, always give your child reassurance that you will keep them safe and they are deeply loved. Even if you are feeling unsure, afraid, or sad, let them know you will do everything you can to protect them. Remind them of all the people they have that will also be there for them, and who they can turn to in times of need.
You may even remind them of times they have been brave in the past, and have them recall their feelings during and after that situation. This can help them feel more confident in themselves, while demonstrating that it is possible to overcome a tough situation.
7. Know When to Reach Out to a Professional for Help
These strategies and tips may be a good guide to help you through some difficult topics, but some issues are harder than others and every child is unique. If you personally don’t feel confident in approaching certain difficult topics with your children, consider seeking additional help.
If you believe your child is overwhelmed, showing signs of trauma, stress, aggression, or is shutting you out, consider talking to someone who may help. Working with a licensed mental health professional can help you develop an appropriate strategy for moving forward together.
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At the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County, we strive to provide our community with the most accurate, up-to-date information and resources. We want to share our knowledge and expertise in early childhood development.