Talking to our kids about difficult issues can be such a worry for parents. It definitely is for me.
My girls are 3 and 6 years old and I worry all the time about how I will talk to them about tough topics as they grow older.
But I try to take each stage at a time. At the moment, I don’t need to worry about advanced concepts such as unprotected sex, but I do have to create opportunities to start with basics and create an open environment where my girls feel comfortable talking to me about anything.
With my girls, the two toughest issues we’ve been dealing with are bedwetting and their dad and I separating.
Here are 10 tips that I’ve found help me talk to my children about difficult topics…
- Talk early.
You want to be the first to talk to your children about the tough topics. You might want to talk early about issues that may not directly affect your family, but that your children may encounter at school and in other social situations.
For example, I think it’s good to let kids know that families come in all varieties. I explain to my girls that sometimes families have one child or lots of children and sometimes there’s one mom only or one dad only or both at home or living separately or even sometimes two moms or two dads.
- Talk often.
I like to ensure that I’m talking often with my girls about all sorts of things. Whether it’s asking what their favorite part of the day was to asking what they thought about the bully character in a TV show.
You want it to be natural for them to come to you when they have a question.
- Watch your tone.
When I talk to my 6 year old about bedwetting, I make sure I use an upbeat, confident voice that helps her understand that it’s not a big deal and it will be okay.
If your child tells you something that shocks you, try to control your reaction. You want to encourage openness and not make them regret telling you.
Other times when you might slip into sounding judgmental about something or someone, catch yourself and correct your tone.
- Keep it age appropriate.
My girls are 3 and 6 years old so how I talk to them about divorce is in very simple terms. When their dad and I first separated, I explained that Mommy and Daddy are going to live in separate houses now.
I answer their questions but try to keep it simple and emphasize that Mommy and Daddy both love them so much so we have to share our time with them.
- Ask what he/she thinks first.
When my girls ask me a question, I try to create a habit of asking them what they think first. It can be about something really simple such as “Which dress do I like better?” And I might reply, “Hmmmm… I’m not sure, which do you like best?”
It works really well with questions about how something works. I might truly not know the answer so I say, “I don’t know. What do you think?” You’ll hear some creative ideas and it gets your children thinking and recognizing that you are interested in what they have to say.
Then when you get to tough topics, it’ll be natural for you to ask what they think first. Then you’ll be able to better gauge at what level to address the issue.
- Use books, TV shows or movies to prompt conversation.
I was shocked one night when I read Julia a book about bullying and she opened up and told me how upset she’d been about a girl being mean to her at Sunday School a few months earlier and that was why she’d been saying she didn’t want to go to church. I was blown away!
- If you have more than one child, try to talk to them separately.
Especially if your children are different ages, try to create opportunities to talk to them individually.
What you need to say, how you say it and how each child responds will be different.
- Don’t pass on your anxiety or emotions.
Whether I’m assuring my 6 year old that nighttime accidents aren’t a big deal or I’m explaining that Mommy and Daddy both love her and want to share time seeing her, I MAKE SURE I do not pass on my own anxiety and emotions.
It’s hard to not pass on your worries and complex emotions, but it’s critical.
- Be patient.
It’s tough for me not to finish people’s sentences. As twins, Janice and I finish each other’s sentences all the time.
But I try really hard to be patient as my girls are talking and not rush them by completing their sentences. Little kids can take a while to get out what they are trying to say. We need to listen patiently and let them finish.
And children will ask the same questions over and over. Try to patiently engage in the discussion as many times as necessary.
- Get advice from experts and other parents.
Everyone needs advice and help. Google it, chat with friends, talk to a doctor… whatever it takes.
The more we talk to other parents and experts, the more informed we’ll be when talking to our children
What About You?
Do you have any tips or advice on talking to children about tough topics? I’d love to hear about some of your experiences.
Disclaimer – We are working on a paid campaign with GoodNites® Underwear to spread awareness and information about enuresis, also known as bedwetting. I have not been paid to publish positive sentiments about the product.