The fact is, random headlines, stray comments and social media provide children with access to bits and pieces of information all day long. But, the information they receive is often incomplete and less than reliable. As parents, it falls to us to explain tough topics as best we can, and answer the questions our kids might ask.
Here are four simple tips for talking about tough topics with your kid.
1. Do Your Research1 of 5
Incomplete and unreliable information causes confusion. When you get the inkling that a tough topic talk is on the horizon, ask yourself, "Do I know what I'm talking about?"
If you do not have a good grasp on the concept, do a little research and bring yourself up to speed. When a talk comes up suddenly, pause the conversation until you can come back to your child with more information.
2. Make a Plan2 of 5
We all experience heightened emotions like fear, embarrassment, shame, doubt and helplessness when confronted by the toughest situations that life can deliver. Learning how you feel personally can help you to sort your thoughts and prepare to talk with your child.
First, identify why it is important for you to speak with your child about this particular topic. Then, write out all your thoughts, feelings and issues concerning the topic--without censoring yourself. Finally, think about the questions that your child might ask and answer them on paper. Let your emotions flow freely during this planning period so that you can understand how you feel and choose the message you would like to convey.
3. Touch Base Often3 of 5
One of the lessons I learned while teaching sixth graders in Washington, D.C., is never to assume that you know how a child feels or perceives a situation. What we see and hear as adults is often very different from what the child sees.
Check in with your child often, and let them tell you how they feel. As children, their feelings often fluctuate with the activities of the day and the situations they have encountered. Notice the patterns and trends in your child's life. A good starting place is to ask open-ended questions, such as, "How do you feel about...?" The investment of time and routine conveys that you care about their feelings and want to know their thoughts.
4. Empower Your Child to Learn More4 of 5
After an open-ended question-and-answer session, especially if the topic is difficult, there are often more questions that remain to be answered. This is a great opportunity to allow your child to tap into their inner Sherlock Holmes and do some guided research. Let them find some of the answers that they seek, and then share their findings with you. This empowers kids to become resourceful, tackle tough issues in a productive manner and begin learning to locate the answers to their own questions.