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Talking to Your Kids: Having the Hard Conversations

talking to your kids
Parenting

Talking to Your Kids: Having the Hard Conversations

Having open and judgment-free conversations with our kids about tough topics is critically important, yet often uncomfortable for parents. This blog offers guidance on effectively approaching these sensitive but necessary dialogues with your children. It covers choosing the right time and place, tailoring your talks to your kid’s age, asking thoughtful questions to spur two-way discussion, responding compassionately when sharing harder truths, handling specific issues like bullying and mental health struggles, the importance of destigmatization, and fostering ongoing communication. While daunting, leaning into these conversations fosters resilience in our kids and strengthens our bonds with them through life’s hardest moments.

Introduction

As parents, talking to your kids about challenging issues is often uncomfortable but also extremely important. Whether discussing bullying, mental health struggles, diversity and inclusion, or other tough topics, opening up conversations with your kids can guide them through life’s difficulties. However, knowing where to start and how to approach these sensitive subjects with your kids can seem daunting. This blog offers tips for selecting the right time and place for talking to your kids, effectively approaching these conversations, addressing specific hard issues, encouraging ongoing communication, and more.

Why Talking to Your Kids About the Tough Stuff?

Before jumping into the “how” of talking to your kids, it’s important to cover the “why.” Maintaining open, judgment-free dialogues with your kids around complex topics accomplishes several things:

  • It builds trust and strengthens your bond when kids know they can come to you about anything.
  • You can provide reassurance and emotional support when your kids face challenges.
  • Discussing issues openly reduces stigma and shame for your kids.
  • You have the opportunity to share knowledge and life experiences with your kids.
  • Your guidance can shape your kids’ perspectives on important issues.

While intimidating for parents, avoiding these conversations can negatively impact your kids’ ability to cope with difficult situations later in life. The key is creating an environment where your kids feel safe coming to you.

Pick the Right Time and Place for Talking to Your Kids

Your approach to talking to your kids should align with their maturity level, but you also want to choose the right setting to facilitate an open and honest dialogue.

Consider Your Kid’s Age

While people often underestimate what children can handle, you want to take their developmental stage into account when talking to your kids. Use language they understand and gear the discussion to issues relevant to their age. For example, a teenager may be ready to discuss weightier subjects like relationships and sexuality, whereas a seven-year-old still needs simpler, more concrete explanations.

Choose a relaxed, private setting.

Don’t spring loaded topics on kids when they’re distracted. Allow time for an unrushed discussion when you both can fully engage. Also, select a private, comfortable place like their bedroom where they are unlikely to feel embarrassed or worried about being overheard.

Follow their lead.

Pay attention to the cues your kids provide about their readiness to talk, how much information to provide, and when they may feel overstimulated. Let your child determine the flow and duration of the conversation so they don’t feel pressured.

Carefully Broaching the Topic with Your Kids

Your goal is to facilitate an open dialogue where your kids truly listen and engage, rather than just lecturing at them. Here are some tips:

Use a gentle tone.

A calm, empathetic approach makes hard conversations feel less threatening for kids. Even when sharing harder truths, maintain a gentle tone and reaffirm your unconditional support.

Ask open-ended questions.

“Tell me your thoughts on…” and “How did that make you feel?” promote sharing versus yes/no questions. Follow where your kid leads the conversation without bombarding them with too many questions.

Make It a Two-Way Street

Don’t just talk to your kids. Actively listen and ask for their input, experiences, and beliefs. Provide reassurance about anything they share with you.

Watch your language.

Avoid using language that could shame your kids or emotionally close them down. Frame tough issues neutrally in your talks and avoid labeling language.

By facilitating caring, non-judgmental dialogues, your kids will feel comfortable opening up with you now and later in life.

 “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” 

Peter Drucker

Discussing specific challenging topics with your kids

While every kid and situation differs, here is some guidance on talking to your kids about some common tough issues:

Bullying

Addressing bullying, talk through what behaviors constitute bullying, like teasing, name-calling, hitting, and social exclusion. Discuss seeking help from adults at school, sticking together with friends for support, and even considering counseling in cases of serious bullying.

Mental Health

Mental health struggles often emerge during adolescence. Openly discuss topics like anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal thinking, and destigmatizing therapy. Listen with compassion and emphasize that mental health issues are common but can improve with time, especially with professional help.

Diversity and inclusion

Promote values around respect, empathy, equality, and celebrating differences, whether due to race, gender, religion, or other attributes. Share your own relevant experiences and talk through any confusion or questions that come up. Discuss why language, jokes, and actions that stereotype groups or exclude individuals are unacceptable.

These conversations with your kids won’t be resolved in one sit-down but warrant revisiting over time as they grow and face new situations.

talking to your kids

Keeping Communication Open When Talking to Your Kids

Tough talks with your kids shouldn’t be one-offs. Fostering ongoing openness around tricky topics provides lifelong benefits for kids.

Make yourself available as a resource.

Assure your kids they should come to you for guidance on any issue, without judgment, whenever they need to talk. Don’t require them to confess an issue before offering your support.

Check-in with your kids regularly.

Periodically, create space for low-pressure talks. A ride in the car, cooking a meal together, or a brief chat before bed are great times to check in on how kids are feeling in general.

Reinforce There Are No “Forbidden” Topics

You want your kids to feel comfortable asking you anything without fear of punishment. Curiosity around sensitive issues like sexuality and mental health is developmentally normal. Demonstrate at home that no topic is too taboo to discuss.

Additional common questions (FAQs)

How do I talk to my child about difficult topics?

Begin by reassuring your child that they can tell you anything they need to, and you won’t blame them in any way. Listen carefully to what they have to say. If you don’t understand, be honest and ask them to explain. Above all, let them say everything they want to say before you give any opinions or advice.

What are the difficult topics to explain to children?

Tough topics for children include divorce, illness, death, sex, and natural disasters. Talking about tough topics reassures children, helps them understand, and lets you explain family values. The way you talk about tough topics depends on children’s age and ability to understand.

How do you talk to kids about bad words?

Stay calm and explain clearly that the word your child used is not OK. You could also explain that the word might hurt other people’s feelings. This will go a long way towards preventing future swearing.

How do you explain a topic to a child?

1. Don’t tell them things — when they ask questions, guide them toward the answer by asking them how you would go about figuring it out. 2. Encourage them to ask questions.

Why is it important to discuss difficult topics with students?

– “The appeal of ‘the hard stuff’ is that it encourages students to think critically about social life, that is, to question what they learn and make meaning from what they learn, to synthesize information from various sources, and to evaluate ideas.”

Why We Must Have Hard Talks with Our Kids

Having tough conversations with your kids pushes most parents outside their comfort zones. However, creating an environment where kids feel safe coming to you sets them up for better-coping mechanisms and decision-making later in life. Avoiding these talks can leave kids isolated and unequipped to process challenges down the road.

As uncomfortable as it can be, we have to power through the discomfort of talking to our kids about sensitive topics because they desperately need parental guidance to build resilience, even if they don’t realize it yet. I encourage all parents to see these talks not as attempting to solve issues outright, but rather as planting seeds that strengthen your bond with your kids over time.

Approach talking to your kids with ample patience, empathy, and care. The trust built through open communication allows you to help guide your kids through life’s most difficult moments. Maintaining open and judgment-free dialogue channels with your kids now enables you to provide compassionate support through all of life’s complex challenges, even into adulthood.

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