Tips for talking to children during challenging times
Parents often ask me how much children should be exposed to difficult subjects, and how do we, as adults, talk to children about hard topics. Let me first say that, without question, I believe a child’s innocence should be protected at all costs. However, children are highly aware of what is going on around them. You may not even notice what your child has picked up on and how sensitive they are to even minor changes.
Here are some suggestions on how to talk to our children:
1. Ask open ended questions
Open-ended questions, as opposed to closed-ended questions, will allow your child to express themselves without you leading them to an answer. If you wanted to know how your child feels about the current events, you may be tempted to say, “are you scared of COVID-19, the protests, etc.?” This question typically leads to an easy “yes” or “no.” If your child answers with “yes” or “no”, you may then ask your child “why?” Especially for younger children, understanding “why” they are feeling a certain away is often challenging for them to understand and articulate.
This type of question can also inadvertently make them wonder if they should feel a certain way (e.g. if they should have been scared).
Instead, try asking these types of questions to your child:
· What thoughts have been circling in your mind today?
· What are your top three emotions today?
· What color is your heart today? (Good for younger children and may require a follow-up question such as, ‘why is it ___, and not ___’)
2. Be patient
In their daily lives, children are not often asked about their thoughts and feelings, and therefore they may be slow to warm up to the idea. Sometimes they default to “I don’t know” when they feel less comfortable or don’t fully know how to express an idea. Don’t get discouraged. Sometimes this means they need some time, or the question needs to be asked in a different way. It’s okay to move on eventually, but it’s important for them to have enough space and time to think, process, and answer.
3. Suspend judgment
We’ve all heard kids ask something that, well, wasn’t quite right. What could be described as “inappropriateness” or lack of tactfulness is often just an expression of a curious, innocent mind.
Before correcting, shaming, or "shh-ing", be sure to discuss what they would like to know more about. It’s helpful to monitor your own discomfort and check in with yourself: what about what my child said made me feel uncomfortable?
It is possible that some of your discomfort comes from your child’s ideas going against your beliefs. You always have the right to teach your children your own family values and what you believe is right and wrong. But it’s worth considering what your child’s thoughts and ideas are. When a child feels deeply understood, they will not only express themselves more easily but will be more apt to receive guidance in the future. In the process, you may end up learning something new about your child, yourself, or the world around us.