How to Talk to Kids about Tough Topics

Little kid with large glasses looking perplexed

School shootings, natural disasters, political turmoil, epidemics… these and other distressing events are common headlines in our current world. Today, many kids have ready access to information 24/7, which means parents need to be ready to talk about and explain information with their children. But as a parent, what is the best approach to talking with your child about tough topics? How do you have those conversations?

One of the most important things to think about when talking with your child about a difficult topic is their age and stage of development. When a child asks a tough question or brings up one of the challenging situations mentioned, the conversation is going to look very different depending on whether your child is in preschool, second grade, or tenth grade! Being aware of your child’s stage of development will help you communicate more effectively with them.

Additionally, you may find the following tips helpful as you prepare for or anticipate challenging conversations with your child:

  • Listen for feelings. Sometimes when youth come to a caregiver and ask questions about a tough topic, they are feeling unpleasant or unfamiliar emotions. For example, after a school shooting, children may feel fear, sadness, or threats to their sense of safety. Parents can help their children identify and name the feeling(s) they are experiencing.
  • Give space for conversation; in other words, listen! Have you ever heard the saying, “Talk and listen in the same proportion of your ears and mouth.” What this means is, listen twice as much as you talk! All joking aside, often when children approach a parent, they don’t want you to minimize or solve their problem. They simply want to engage in conversation. So, if your child comes to you, ask follow-up questions, get opinions, be curious, and listen.
  • Find out what they already know. This is a great tip for talking about tough topics. A simple question such as, “What do you already know about this topic?” can help parents gauge the child’s level of understanding on the topic. The conversation can proceed from there.
  • It’s ok to say to your child, “Let me think about that.” If you need a moment to collect your thoughts before you engage in a tough topic, that’s OK! State your need, and, then, make sure you follow up with your child at a point in the near future.
  • Finally, keep the door open for more conversation. When you wrap up your conversation with your youth, remind them you are available to talk if or when they need you! As children grow, keep the lines of communication open. We want our kids to come to us when they need to talk – even about the tough stuff.

Additional Resources

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