Talking to your child about difficult issues
Talking to our kids about difficult issues can be such a worry for parents. How do we talk to them about issues so that they can understand? What language should we use? Are there any subjects we should avoid?
Talking about sensitive issues with our children can be very tricky and the first thing to remember is that every child (and adult) is different and there is no right way to go about it. It is important that the way you do it feels natural and comfortable for you as well as your child. Here are some tips to help along the way:
- Talk early – From day one try to create an open environment where your child feels comfortable talking to you about anything. Let’s face it, you are the primary source of information in your child’s early years and YOU want to be the first person to talk to him or her about the difficult issues. When they are very young try talking to them about issues that may not affect them directly but that they may encounter in school or other places.
- Talk often – make sure you talk about the trivia as well as the big issues. By making conversation and discussion part of your daily life it will make it all the more natural for your child to come to you with the important questions.
- Keep the conversation at Your Child’s Level. When children ask questions we can sometimes overestimate how much they understand. A good idea is to ask them what their ideas or thoughts are first. This will give you a clear indication of their level of understanding and you can tailor your answers accordingly. Give as much information as they need to satisfy their questions.
- Be Honest – Children can accept things that are told to them honestly and straightforwardly at their own level of understanding. Ensuring you are always honest is vital in building credibility and trust with your child.
- It is OK to acknowledge that a topic is difficult, sad, or awkward for you to talk about.
- Use books, TV shows or movies to prompt a discussion. Reading a story or poem about a particular issue such as bullying may give your child the prompt they need to open a conversation with you about something that is troubling them.
- Listen – Don’t Lecture. The best way to encourage open discussion with your child is to really listen and hear what they have to say. If you anticipate what they will say, finish their sentences, or use this as an opportunity to lecture, it is unlikely that the conversation will continue. Furthermore, you are making it less likely that they will come to you in the future to discuss something that is concerning them.
- Distraction – sometimes talking whilst you are doing something else can be a good thing. Sometimes that distraction can help to reduce the intensity of a discussion, just make sure you do still really listen!
- Share Your Values – Parents are the most important sources of information for children and for their developing value sets and goals.
- Don’t be too busy – Children have a knack of wanting to open a meaningful discussion when it is least convenient! Wherever possible take the time to address the issue – even if you say that you will talk about it later. That is fine… as long as you do…
- Be Patient – your child may take a while to get to their point and they may want to ask the same questions over and over. Try to be patient and have the discussion as many times as is necessary. Each time you have the discussion you will probably find that your child will have a greater level of understanding and maturity in relation to it. They will be able to handle more information and more complicated discussions. It is important to make sure you are consistent in your ideas.
- Don’t pass on your anxiety or emotions. It is really hard not to pass on your worries and emotions during discussions about tough issues but it is important that you keep a lid on them and keep your tone positive and soothing.
- Get advice – Don’t be afraid to ask other parents or experts for advice
We do help this has helped offer a few ideas about how to deal with discussing difficult issues with your child. Our picture, The Life Tree, deals with many key milestones in life as well as challenging scenarios which we are all likely to face. The book of verses which complement the picture are a great way to introduce younger children to some of the issues they may face in life. As children get older and they start to understand more and more about the complexities of life and emotions they see deeper and deeper meanings in the verses that will keep resonating with them throughout their lives.