No matter how much we would like to shelter our kids and protect them from anything negative, bad things happen, both in the world outside, and within our own families. Because kids hear and see much more than we would like, it’s important to know how to talk to kids about what is going on in the world around them, and about tough talks and subjects at home.
Be aware of social media and the news
It’s important for parents to be aware of the kinds of social media and news reporting their kids are exposed to so they understand whether there are issues outside the home kids are hearing about and may be worrying about. With weekly reports of new possible terrorist attacks, gun related tragedies, and other disasters around the globe flooding mainstream media, kids may be getting scary bits and pieces of things they don’t really understand.
Sitting down with kids at dinner to talk can be a great way to find out what they’re hearing or what their friends are talking about. Changes in their behavior can also hint to a concern they may have but have not shared and can signal the time for tough talks.
Find out what they know
When it comes to these big picture topics it’s important to start with what they think they know. Rather than going into detailed and complex explanations, sometimes all a parent needs to do is clarify a partial or incorrect detail to make things right.
Other times kids may know exactly what is going on and just need reassurance of their safety or that of a family member in relation to the event. If your kids are older, these global events can also be a good teaching tool, a time to talk about family values, and right and wrong.
Use judgement to consider the age and maturity of the child and understand that a conversation that is right for one, may not be suitable for all. Tough talks require our best judgement.
Deal with your own emotions first or get help
When it comes to tough issues closer to home, you may find you need to deal with your own feelings about what is going on before you speak with kids. While it’s ok to cry when sharing the news of the death of a loved one, for instance, you don’t want to frighten kids with extreme despair. And while it’s ok to be angry personally in the case of a divorce or other relationship issue, you don’t want that to influence or affect the kids.
If you can’t find a way to get your own emotions under control, you may need to enlist the help of a friend or other family member who can help deliver the message. Make sure you are there, as their parent and supporter, but if having someone else do the talking is something you need, understand that it is ok.
Give them time to process
Chances are that if you’re speaking to your kids about something that has happened, you’ve already had time to process the event and it’s important to give them the same time. Even when it comes to outside events, your greater experience and knowledge means you may understand instantly, while they may take time to absorb what they’ve been told.
That can mean checking in with kids, hours or days after your initial conversation, to see if questions have arisen, how they are coping, and whether another talk is warranted. If nothing else needs to be addressed, that’s ok too. Sometimes children, especially when they are younger, just don’t have the capacity for long-term thinking beyond their daily needs and you may find they have already moved on.
As a parent it’s important to have tough talks with kids as things come up, no matter their stage of life. Opening this door, and keeping it open as they grow, will help ensure those conversations become two-way when your kids have their own issues to discuss.
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