How to Talk to Your Children about Difficult Topics

Children are exposed to difficult issues all of the time. They could be on the playground, at home, in the classroom, or watching TV. The news is often a source of troubling, confusing, and sometimes disturbing content, and TV shows are increasingly realistic and graphic.

Kids may hear about or be impacted by tough issues we hear about in national headlines. As a parent, it is important to know ways to address tough topics with your children so they can navigate the world accordingly.

Each family is different and parents should make their own determination about what topics are appropriate for kids of different ages.

Here are a few tips for helping to tackle tough topics:

  • Bring it up in a comfortable setting. If there is a topic related to current events you want to discuss, it’s important to bring it up at the right time. Children might not be receptive if they are distracted or do not feel comfortable. The dinner table can be an excellent setting because it is typically a calm, safe
  • Connect the conversation to everyday interactions. Be on the lookout for segues to difficult topics. If you’re watching TV and come across news coverage you can ask, “Have you heard about what’s going on with…” or “Have your teachers talked to your class about…”
  • Be open to questions. In some cases, children will simply bring up a topic. When they do, it is an opportunity for a teachable moment. Be careful not to overwhelm them with information, and with younger children, if they ask you a question, only answer the specific questions they ask. If you give them a long explanation, they may get confused. Instead, answer their question, and then ask if they have any other questions or why they brought it up. If the issue has to do with school violence, they may have brought it up because they are scared and looking for reassurance that they are safe. The National Association of Psychologists provides an excellent tip sheet on how to talk to your children about violence.
  • Explain why words can be hurtful. As children learn and experience issues, they may not fully understand how to talk about them. If a child says something insensitive, instead of saying, “Don’t use that word,” or “Don’t say that,” use it as an opportunity to explain why it is hurtful to others.
  • Meet children where they are. If children are younger, you will need to use simple language and address issues one piece at a time. If they are older, you may be able to give them a holistic explanation. If you just give your opinion, instead of explaining all sides, they may perceive the issue as clearly having one answer and be confused as to why there is a conflict.

Discussing these tough issues can be valuable and formative teachable moments for your children, and may be some of the most important conversations parents can have.

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Megan DottermuschMegan Dottermusch is a community relations coordinator for 2U, Inc. supporting mental health and advocacy programs for the Masters in Social Work program at Simmons College online. She is passionate about promoting proper nutrition and fitness, combating mental health stigmas, and practicing everyday mindfulness.

 

Photo credit: Spirit-Fire

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