How to Talk About Tough Topics
Talking to your child or teenager about tough topics such as violence, racism, and death are never easy. But age appropriate talks are necessary to make sure your child feels safe.
Here are tips on how to talk with your child about tough topics.
What to say
Figure out your feelings first. It is okay to be upset and to let your child know you are upset. Talk with your child calmly about the events to give your child space to feel safe and ask questions.
If you get too emotional, take a break. Let your child know you are upset and are feeling overwhelmed by your feelings. Model how you can calm those feelings of overwhelm and emotion in a healthy way. This could be going for a walk, deep breathing or journaling.
Young kids may only hear snippets of what is going on or view images that are flashing on screens. Naturally, a child will try to form a story of what they see and hear to make sense of their world. When adults do not talk with young kids, they can make up something worse than what has happened. This can feel very scary to kids. Take the time to ask your child what they think is going on. Then, listen to their feelings. Talk to them broadly about the event and share your feelings as well. Let them know they can ask questions and share their feelings with you at any time.
Correct any misinformation your child shares with you. For older kids, talk about the importance of making sure information is correct. It can also help to talk about how to find good sources for information.
What to do
Ask about your child’s fears and feelings. Kid’s minds can paint vivid pictures, which can make them feel unsafe. Listen without dismissing their fears or feelings. Reassure them by reflecting back to them what they say. It can help to share your feelings as well as how you manage your feelings.
It’s okay to not have all the answers and not know how to respond. Let your child know that even though you don’t know what is going to happen, you will work keep them safe.
For older kids, you may have to limit their exposure to big events. Share with your child how upsetting events can affect their mental health and mood. Let them know that if they start to become too upset you will intervene to protect them.
Use it as a teaching moment
Talk about how others might not be safe, or feel safe, and what you can do to help support them. It is important to always reassure your child that you will work to keep them safe.
Be careful about spreading bias and racism when talking with your children. Your kids hear a lot more than they let on. Use the event as a way to open a conversation about equality and equity. Talk about how different people may experience the event. Then discuss how problem solving and action could change future events.
Talk about any good things that come from the event to show hope and resiliency. This lets your child know that bad things sometimes happen, but good things can come out of bad things. It also helps kids know that things do not stay bad for forever.
Having a talk with your child about tough topics can be hard, but it is necessary. It is okay if you don’t know what to say or you stumble. The important part is giving your child space to be heard and then letting them know they are safe with you.