There is no magic involved when you need to have difficult conversations with your kids. Children are inquisitive by nature, and they are bound to ask you questions about difficult topics sometime or the other. More so, with so much information already available, kids expect their parents to give them honest, factual answers.
Since most parents are ever-ready to shield their kids from topics that can hurt the kid or make him anxious, depressed, and fearful, the topic of difficult conversations can be really uncomfortable. The question is how to go about handling difficult topics. Even if difficult, it needs addressing.
Is it important to have difficult conversations with your kids? Absolutely!
As parents, we might want to avoid such topics, but kids today are smarter and are more perceptive than we were years back. And, then there is the constant feed of information that they get from their peers, digital media, and so on.
Extensive research on child psychology has revealed that when parents avoid such topics or fail to discuss such issues with the kids, the chances that the child’s psychological brain is impacted negatively increases. As parents, we feel we should brush aside such difficult topics because we want to protect them from adverse situations and reactions. But, when the kid has asked you a direct question, and/or he has been getting information from school and TV, you will impact his thought-process unconstructively by avoiding such difficult topics.
What are some of the things that are hard or difficult to talk about with your children?
The Difficult ones are the awkward ones and the ones we feel we can avoid for a long time because we feel it would attract a range of emotions – from blank stares, long pauses or a barge of million questions.
- Sex, Rape & Pornography
- Financial distress
- Divorce and separation
- Violence, Bombings, Racism, Stranger Danger
- Being safe on the internet
- Bullying and Dealing with Cyberbullies
What is the right time to address these topics?
Unfortunately, there is no right answer to this question or a tried-and-tested equation to calculate the time when such conversations should be started.
Remember, each situation is unique; each family is different, and each kid is exceptional – so each situation and child needs different treatment.
However, one thing is for sure – postponing the conversation is not going to help – neither the child nor you. Also, saying things like ‘Everything is going to be fine’ can sound a bit hollow and not as promising or assuring as you would want it to sound.
Dos and Don’ts of a Difficult Conversation
While there is no safe, guaranteed way of addressing this conversation, here are few tips to go about discussing the topic with confidence and in a positive ambience.
1. Look for the right time and place.
You should not wait forever to hold the conversation, but you should also not rush into breaking the news. Weekends and holidays can be a good time to approach the topic. Similarly, you can hold a one-to-one conversation. Avoid bedtime because it can interrupt their sleep. Mornings are better to hold such difficult conversations.
2. Be honest.
The basic rule of relationships holds true in this case too. It is always good, to be honest even if the person across the table is your child. Remember that your child is smart and has ways to get to know the truth. If the child discovers that his mom or dad was telling a lie, it can hurt him, causing a dent in the child-parent relationship.
3. Speak in a language that the child understands.
The language used should be simple and clear, so that it is easy for the child to understand. Do everything in your capacity to create an understanding ecosystem.
4. Address the issue in an age-appropriate manner
The way you talk with your 6-year old is going to be completely different from the way you are going to speak to a 12-year old. Age-appropriate handling is crucial so that the child understands the situation in an optimized manner.
5. Encourage them to ask questions
Once the new has been broken, make sure that you let the child ask as many questions as he has. Some kids go silent – you would need to cajole the child to come up with queries. In case the child believes in speaking out his mind, you must make sure that you are there to address the queries satisfactorily. However, do not push the child or force the child to come up with questions or say something. Give him space and time, if you feel he needs that.
6. Listen and have a positive body language
Ensure that you make eye-contact with the child, talk in an empathetic manner, and repeat the sentence if required. Now, when the child speaks out, you need to listen – do not be distracted.
7. Avoid using generic comments
Comments like ‘don’t worry’ or ‘It’s okay’ will not make much sense here. Avoid them.
8. Never seek solace or comfort from your child
You are the comfort giver here – do not look at reversing the role. Expecting that the child will understand the difficult situation and offer you solace is a bit unfair for the child.
9. If they already know the news, find out how much and what the child knows
It is good to first gather the information that the child already has. This way, you will be able to guide and steer the conversation. And, also, if the facts are wrong, you can correct them.
10. If things look bleak, seek help from a professional
As a parent, you need to understand when you need to hire professional help. If the child starts to have nightmares or meltdowns, or if the child has distanced himself too much, there are physical issues that have crept away; it is good to contact a trained person.
What are the appropriate ages to have these conversations?
Different age groups react to difficult topics differently. Of course, every child is unique, but across a specific age group, there are some generic reactions that you can look forward to:
1. Between 2 to 6 years
Since at this tender age, the child cannot understand complex topics, it is best to keep the topic as basic and simple as possible. Also, reduce exposure of the kid to TV and the digital media. Keep asking them what they know; and keep reassuring them to let them know that they are safe and protected.
2. Between 7 to 12 years
Kids are a bit more mature in this age group, and they can handle complicated subjects; but, that does not mean that they will not get shaky during the conversation. When talking to kids from this age group, you need to be better prepared, so rehearse, look for the opportune moment, go in for one-to-one conversations, give him a context to understand the topic, let them ask questions, and address their doubts and queries.
At this age, the child probably knows a lot more than you think. They interact with their peer group and are updated from the digital medium. Here, the conversation needs to be open, and the discussion should be honest, informative, double-sided, and should enable learning. Also, be prepared to guide the child and tell him the right from the wrong. Also, you can work together to arrive at a solution, especially in case of personal issues like divorce, or drug abuse.
There is no perfect way to deal with difficultconversations and topics. Every parent discovers his or her own way to guide their kids through such a topic. Just make sure that you are there to respond to the need of the child and offer support, as and when they need it.