Talking To Your Kids About “Tough Topics”

January 31, 2018

Amy Fortney Parks, PhD – Practice Owner: Do you ever wish you could have Mary Poppins come to your house to talk to your kids about “tough topics”? Topics are tough, no matter the age of your child, whether they are 5, 12 or 18. And topics tend to get tougher as your child(ren) grow older. Being able to talk to your child about subjects that are hard or uncomfortable is a beautiful gift in which you as the parent can give to your child. Not only that, but it also equips and prepares your child to develop and use these social skills in the future…

Dominique AdkinsEdD – Therapist for The Wise Family: Tough topics and teens can be a challenging combo. Teens are constantly wanting freedom from parents to prove that “I know what I am doing.” This desire to be independent must be acknowledged while keeping communication open and clear regardless of the topic. The sooner the tough topic is tackled the better. Before discussing a tough topic, I encourage parents, teens, and young adults to determine their individual goals and to speak from their experience. It is also important to remember that tough discussions will not always go as planned so we must listen and breathe before reacting. Finally, be mindful of nonverbal communication such as tone, body language, and facial expressions. These small gestures can have a big impact on achieving a resolution, an understanding, or a compromise.

Amanda Beyland, LCSW – Therapist for The Wise Family: When kids are young they often turn to their parents (or another trusted adult) for guidance and this can mean answering some tough questions! It’s natural for kids to be curious, no matter how uncomfortable the questions may make us adults. When these questions are asked, it is important to provide answers, even if it isn’t the easiest thing to talk about. When we avoid the things that are difficult to talk about it only causes kids to become more curious and they may seek answers from sources that may not be reliable.  Keep your answers simple, straightforward, and try not to make a big deal about it, just answer the question like you would any other.

The questions usually start somewhere so ask your child what they already know in order to get a better understanding of where the question is coming from or what the child’s concerns may be. You may find that your child just needs some reassurance if their question stems from something he or she may be worrying about. One answer may not be enough, so be sure to leave the door open to future discussions. Once your child feels comfortable talking to you (and knows you’ll give them an honest answer) they may continue to have questions.  Kids are resilient and their responses to the tough stuff may surprise you, so don’t be afraid to be honest with them!

Kasey CainResident in Counseling – Therapist for The Wise Family: I have spent the majority of my professional career working in pre-schools and elementary schools. Over the years, I have noticed that adults avoid talking to children about a variety of tough topics because they think the children are not ready for or can’t handle the information. While I certainly believe adults must consider what is developmentally appropriate for children to hear and talk about, we cannot use this as an excuse to avoid challenging conversations. In fact, when we avoid conversations because we are uncomfortable, we do a disservice to our child and our relationship with them.

I remember speaking to the mother of a 5th grade boy. As a single mother she was nervous about talking with her son about puberty. She asked me if the school would cover that information so she didn’t have to and if I could follow up with her son to see if he had any questions. Of course, I had the ability to talk with him, however, I talked with this mother about the possible long-term benefits of her having this conversation. Sure they might both feel uncomfortable in the moment and blush or giggle, but her son would realize that he could talk to his mother about awkward topics. I would not always be available to have these conversations, but as his mother, she would be a constant, supportive presence in his life. This is just one example of the hundreds of times I have encouraged adults to have difficult conversations with their kids.

I am fond of saying “little ears are everywhere.” This refers to the fact that kids are smart and are paying attention. You may think you are having an “adult conversation” away from kids, but chances are they have heard bits and pieces of it or are picking up on your non-verbals.

Kids are smarter than they get credit for. They also have the ability for great resilience. Let’s foster this resiliency but approach the tough conversations head on and show children that we are here to listen, talk, problem solve, etc. As Jeanne Phillips, more commonly known as “Dear Abby”, once said “Sometimes the most important conversations are the most difficult to engage in.”

Be Wise!