Talking with kids about tough topics is, well… tough.
The world is filled with bad news lately, and as much as I’d love to be able to protect my kids from seeing any of it, the truth is that it’s all around them.
From snippets on television and the radio to newspapers that we pass in the grocery store, there is always bad news splashed across the headline. Sometimes there’s no other choice than to talk with kids about tough topics, even when you don’t have the answers.
Here are some tricks for talking with them that may help make things easier.
Tips for Talking with Kids About Tough Topics: Find Out What They’re Thinking About
Kids keep a lot bottled up inside of them, but when they’re given the chance to talk, they often do.
While we’ve definitely had sit-down talks about things that my husband and I think we need to talk with them about, it’s often in those off moments that their real worries and fears come out.
I’m not sure what it is about doing puzzles, but when I sit down with my kids one-on-one to complete a puzzle, they open up about all of the things that are going on inside of their heads.
Maybe it’s the relaxed, stress-free pace of puzzle assembly that helps them let their guard down. Or, it’s the fact that it’s just them and me. No matter what it is, I’m thankful for the times that they open up and give me insight into what’s worrying them.
Another common time for kids to open up is right before their bedtime story.
Some nights we don’t have time to read a bedtime story, but I always try to figure in 5-10 minutes for a “recap of the day”.
Talking With Kids About Tough Topics: Ask Them Questions
Ask open-ended questions like, “Why does that bother you?” or “How does that make you feel?”
Sometimes they don’t know the answers themselves, but it’s a good starting point for talking with them about tough topics. It also helps to remind them how much I value their thoughts and opinions.
After I ask the questions, the most important thing is to listen. I listen to their answers. Instead of jumping right in with another question, I listen some more.
Some of our best talks have come from the comments that they make after those moments of silence. It’s definitely a test of my own willpower and patience to listen, instead of jumping in and trying to fix things right away.
I’ve learned that listening is powerful.
When kids feel like they can tell you anything, without judgement, they often do. And it’s in those moments that you truly discover what they need help with the most.
Talking With Kids About Tough Topics: Give Honest Answers
Most times, when talking about violence and tragedies in the world, the answer is a simple, “I don’t know.”
Giving honest answers about tough topics is scary. Honest answers can ground them when frightened. It also reinforces that they can trust you.
They need the truth in those tough moments more than they need sugarcoated answers.
Now, I’m not saying to delve into a philosophical discussion. Keeping answers short, honest, and age-appropriate is better than lying because the subject is difficult to talk about.
If you are struggling with this and curious about how much information your child can handle, reach out to another trusted adult for advice. Pediatricians, counselors, guidance counselors, and older family members are excellent resources.
When you don’t have an exact answer that you are ready to give when they ask you the question, it’s okay to say something like, “I don’t know. Can I think on this a little bit more, and can we talk about it again tomorrow?”
Answer as well as you can, then put the ball back in their court.
Talking With Kids About Tough Topics: Reassure Them
Reassure them that they are safe, loved, and protected. Hug them. Love them.
This is the biggest piece of the puzzle and the one thing they truly need. Before long, they’ll have grown up, and understand more of the world. Even so, nothing beats knowing that Mom and Dad will be there with an open ear and open arms.
Talking with kids about tough topics is one of the hardest parts of parenthood. Knowing that your kids are experiencing anxiety and worry about things that are out of their control – and most likely your control as well – isn’t easy.
You can do it–you’re their rock!
Comment below with your tips for discussing tough topics with your kids.