How To Talk To Your Child About Difficult Things

I wrote this post a few weeks back and never published it, but in light of the devastating events in Las Vegas last night, I decided to publish it today.  I hope this helps facilitate some of the difficult conversations that may come up in the days ahead.

Please take care of one another.

~Abby

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A lot has been going on lately. From the devastating storms in Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico, to political feuds, there is no shortage of difficult topics out there; and it can be a lot for our children to take in.  So how do we go about addressing these things with our children in a way they can understand?

Let me first say that a lot of this is less therapeutic discussion, and more parenting choice.  You as the parent know what you kids can handle and what may be too sad, scary, or overwhelming.  Use your intuition as to what’s best for your child, in terms of what they are capable of understanding and processing.  Taking the path of “they need to know or should know this can be damaging if your child isn’t ready.  Issues or events may be incredibly important to us personally, but that doesn’t mean your child is ready to hear or learn about them.  If you need help assessing your child’s readiness, answer the following questions and use the results as a guide:

  • Why do I feel compelled to share? (ex: it is important for them, it is important to me, they are asking questions, etc…)
  • What will my child gain from having this information? (ex: safety, increased understanding, increased knowledge, nothing?)
  • Can my child handle this information?
    • Is my child sensitive?
    • Does my child scare easily?
    • Does my child worry excessively?

If you’ve gone through the questions and decided to discuss with your kids, or if they got to the information prior to this process, here are some helpful tips:

Plan Your Discussion

 Think our what you want to say ahead of time.  Sometimes in the middle of a difficult discussion we realize it opens the door to other difficult topics we weren’t prepared to address.  Plan your main points and try to anticipate questions your child might have so you can be prepared to answer them.

Use Age Appropriate Language

 Make sure your child can understand the words and concepts you use.  This will keep the discussion simple and understandable for your child.

Be Honest, but Prudent

 Children look to their parents for a safe, trusting relationship.  It is crucial to be honest, but also purposeful with what you sharing and why. Your child may not need to know it all.

If your child asks, it may be helpful to acknowledge that bad things happen and sometimes we don’t know why.  Reassure your child that they are safe and that there are people in their lives who work hard to keep it that way.  If your family is religious, it may be helpful to discuss your particular religion’s perspective here.

Keep it Short and Leave Room for Questions

 Often, the more we talk, the less kids listen.  Sometimes all that language can be overwhelming. Make sure to pause, ask your child if they understand, and provide your child the opportunity to ask questions.

Check In

Check in after the discussion, children take time to process things and may have questions hours, days, or weeks later.  Honor those questions, answer them thoughtfully, and encourage them to keep asking questions if needed.