I’m constantly breaking up arguments between my kids about who can be first. Whether they are running to the van to see who gets to ride shotgun, or pushing to the front of the line to order their ice cream cone, there is an urgency they feel to fight for what they want. This behavior is not condoned and results in a consequence, mostly due to their approach of fighting their way to the front. But, this idea of fighting to be first has been on my mind lately, and from a parenting standpoint I feel a sense of urgency to address difficult conversations with my children before someone else gets to it first.
In an age where information is available with the click of a button, and dialogue between peers is happening on the playground, the importance of tackling difficult conversations head-on with our kids is vital. With pressing topics ranging from natural disasters, death, divorce, sex, and financial instability, we as parents need to be ready to address these issues with concern and care.
Here are four tips to help navigate these difficult conversations.
1. Find Out What They Already Know
Our children offer clues to what is occupying their brain space. When they start asking questions or making comments about a new topic, it is an invitation to press in. Lead with a question and ask, “what have you heard?” regarding the difficult conversation at hand. Their answer will provide a grid for what they understand and what misconceptions need to be corrected.
2. Keep It Simple
My children range in age, from 4 to 9 years old. A difficult conversation with my oldest looks different than those with my youngest. Occasionally, one simple sentence may suffice, while other times an in-depth conversation is needed. Listen for where your child has worry or concern, and offer reassurance. Be first to validate their concern and remind them that they are healthy, safe, and loved.
3. Ask More Questions
Find out from your children where and when these conversations surfaced. Where did they hear this information? Help direct them back to you as the parent and a safe and accurate source of reference. Address that some of these difficult conversations may feel awkward and uncomfortable, but sometimes it’s the uncomfortable things that helps us grow. I consistently tell my children that no matter what they ask me, I will always speak the truth. Telling the truth is not always an easy or popular decision, but it is a promise I have made to my kids. They know that regardless of how uncomfortable or difficult the conversation may be, that they will get a straight answer from their parents. This has resulted in our children choosing us to be their first choice when talking through hard things.
4. Talk Again
Check back in occasionally with your child about the issues you discussed. Reinforce that their concerns were heard and you are a safe place to continue the dialogue. Being available to navigate these difficult conversations builds trust with our children. When there are not simple, easy answers, we as parents are pushed and stretched. Discomfort initiates growth in us as well as in our children.