Five Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Hard Stuff
The world is full of information that’s not ideally meant for children. But harboring information from kids, tweens, and teens these days is just about impossible. Your preschooler overhears you on the phone with a family member talking about money troubles. Your older daughter accidentally reads text messages about her grandmother’s health issues while playing on a tablet. If you’re listening to the news while making dinner, your kids are hearing it too.
Pandemics and mass shootings in schools, malls, and places of worship have unfortunately
taken up residence in our collective consciousness, children included.
You may worry about how, or even if, you should talk to your children about these things. For
example, maybe your son never mentions anything about the things he may see or hear about.
Does that simply mean he’s not concerned, and you should just leave well enough alone? Or
maybe your daughter asks questions about everything, and you worry about whether that
means she has anxiety or should see a children’s therapist.
Figuring out how to navigate talking to your kids about hard things can be confusing. And while there are no easy answers for parents, here are five tips and guidelines that you can keep in mind:
1. Take into consideration both the chronological and emotional ages of kids when you
think about if and how to talk to your child about tough stuff. It’s easy to understand that
you would not talk to a teenager and a toddler in the same way, but it’s more nuanced
than that. For example, two 10-year-olds may be vastly different in terms of what they
can and can’t handle, so how your neighbor talks to her 10-year-old about a hard topic
may simply not be appropriate for yours.
2. If your child is on the anxious side, you want to be reassuring without being dismissive.
For example, while it may be tempting to say, “That’s never going to happen to you,”
your child my feel dismissed if they can’t express what, specifically, is worrying them. Be
sure to invite your child to tell you about their fears without interrupting and provide a
calm, physical presence. After listening closely, you can remind them that you are there
for them and that they are safe.
3. If you have a child who seems more like they are a mini adult, there can be a fine line
between being straightforward and telling them too much. It can be easy to mistake a
child’s high verbal skills for emotional readiness when it comes to grappling with tough
issues. Your child may appear wise beyond his or her years, but they still need to come
away from conversations feeling safe and secure and knowing that it isn’t their job to
have a plan or figure things out.
4. Make space and time for questions as they arise. It’s important that your child knows
that she or he can come to you with more questions, even after the initial conversation.
Sometimes, questions about whether a grandparent is dying or about a terrible shooting
may come when you least expect like when you’re about to enter an amusement park or
while you’re trying to get through the grocery store line. Be prepared for those moments
by letting your child know that you heard their concern and letting them know that you
will make room to talk about that issue together when you get home. Be sure to follow up
on your words.
5. Telling your child, “I’ll be honest with you,” and then meaning it is important when it
comes to preserving your child’s trust in you and not misleading them. If you struggle
with finding the line between being honest and being too blunt or over disclosing, it may
be a good idea to do a parenting consult with a children’s therapist for support in how to
best address a tough topic that takes into consideration your child’s unique
There are so many conversations about things like money, health issues, politics, and beyond
that are truly adult situations that kids do not need to be a part of. There is a fine line between telling your kids too much and not sharing anything with them. Unfortunately, kids are going to hear about mass shootings, death or maybe even a multi-year pandemic and when these things do arise, there are some main points to keep in mind when talking to them.
As much as we might like, we just can’t fix everything in the world that our kids will encounter.
But by showing up as a consistent, loving, and trustworthy parent, we can help our kids to better navigate the tough things that the world throws our way.