10 Tips for How to Talk to Children About Difficult Issues

by Susan

mother and daughter talkingTalking 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…

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

 

Written by Susan Carraretto, Mom Blogger and 5 Minutes For Mom Co-Founder
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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.



Email Author    |    Website About Susan

Susan Carraretto and her identical twin, Janice Croze, created 5 Minutes for Mom in 2006. Susan loves all social media, but her top addiction these days is Pinterest. She recently published a children's book titled "The Pest Detectives" which you can download now in digital format for free.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kim August 16, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Excellent tips! Another one…Be open. And let your kids know that you’re willing to hear what they have to say too. This pretty much goes in line with tip #5 – asking what they think first. Communication is so important, and kids need to know that you will hear and listen to what they have to say too. =)
Thanks for this post. It’s great.

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2 Susan August 16, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Thank you Kim. Yes… “Be Open” is a fantastic tip… thanks for adding that.

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3 Kelley August 16, 2011 at 2:10 pm

I think another good tip is–wait for them to ask. I once heard that when a person is emotionally ready to receive information about a difficult subject, they will ask about it.

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4 Susan August 16, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Kelley, great point… it can be a tough line to balance between waiting for them to ask and bringing up topics that you want to discuss with them. It depends on the child, the topic, the age etc.

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5 Youthology formula review August 16, 2011 at 2:48 pm

These tips are great. I particularly like #3,”watch your tone”. I personally remember being very scared to make a mistake when I was young so try extra hard to make it so that my kids don’t have that fear.

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6 Susan August 16, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Yes, it is a terrible thing for a child to live in fear of making a mistake.

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7 Mel August 16, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Great tips! It is oh so important to keep the communication lines open with our children especially through the tough times. Things for giving some great tips. I’m linking up in one of my upcoming Sunday Stars posts. I think every parent should read this!

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8 Susan August 16, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Thanks Mel… I appreciate your feedback.

It’s amazing how good communication helps every relationship whether it’s with your child, spouse, boss or neighbor.

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9 Debbye August 25, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Great ideas! i have found that patience and timing are everything when talking to my ho so reluctant daughter.

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10 Laura August 26, 2011 at 11:02 pm

I blog on dangerous teen trends & as a mom of 2 girls (15 & 21) believe me, you can’t wait to talk to your children when it comes to drugs, alcohol & sex. I started talking to my girls when they were 3 or 4 about cigarettes. You see them everywhere, t.v., movies, out in public. I kept it simple of course. I told them that smoking cigarettes was bad for you, because they can make you really sick & they make you stink! Hollie (my oldest) looked at me & said “ooo, I don’t want to stink”. But that opened the doors for me to bring up those other tough topics. As they got older, I starting talking about alcohol & drugs & the older they got, the more I talked. I started talking to them about sex around age 8 (look at the statistics, girls are getting pregnant at age 10…you can’t wait). There are books to help you keep it age appropriate. You don’t want too get graphic just yet. Believe me (as someone with a lot of experience), you can’t wait to talk about these topics because when you children start school, they are going to hear everything, even in 1st grade (some kid is going to come to school & talk about what he heard his older brother & friends talking about & that includes sex. Hollie came home from kindergarten one day & when I told her to do something (don’t remember what), she called me a “bo ho” (butt hole). When I asked her teacher about it the next day, some boy came to school saying it & then the whole class was saying it.)

My favorite quote about talking to your children is: *”It’s better…too much, too soon than too little, too late.” Sorry I don’t remember who said that. And that old saying “do as I say and not as I do” won’t work. A dad can’t chug a case of beer on the weekend & then tell his son “don’t drink”. When children are little, their parents are their heros (enjoy it because it won’t last) & they will imitate what their parents do later in life.

Here’s a post I did called “Go Ahead…Talk To Your Teen”, but I gave advice on how to start talking when they are young.

http://ziggysblogs.blogspot.com/2010/07/teen-trends-go-aheadtalk-to-your.html

Sorry, didn’t mean to get long-winded, but this is something very important to me. Times have changed a lot since we moms were young.

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11 Laura\ August 26, 2011 at 11:07 pm

Oh, and all your advice is very good :)

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12 Debbye September 11, 2011 at 11:48 pm

I love your favorite quote Laura! I hope I can remember it throughout the next 18 years or so. :)

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