There’s a lot our kids need to know as they get older and head toward adulthood. We want them to be well-informed so they can make good decisions for themselves and have confidence navigating their teen and adult years.
However, some important topics are difficult for us to talk with our kids about. Perhaps because our parents weren’t open with us, or because things have changed so much since we were young, or because the subject feels very personal.
We sometimes find ourselves tongue-tied.
I’m thinking of topics like sex, drugs and screen time, to give a few examples. All these topics have many issues within them that also need addressing, such as consent, addiction and advertising. They can feel very big and it’s hard to know where to start.
Below are five tips to get us started with the conversations that scare us.
1. Start early
Kids need to hear about the big stuff from their parents first because their initial encounters with these topics will leave the strongest impression. So, we have to beat their peers and the media to it and get in early!
Getting in early also ensures that our kids are fully informed before they need to be. It gives them time to ask questions and internalise the information before applying it.
Typically, younger children are more receptive to their parents’ teachings than tweens and teenagers, making the earlier years a good time to get started.
2. Drip feed information
To avoid overwhelming them, the trick is to talk with our kids little and often, each time, reviewing what they already know and adding on a little more. Keeping the conversation open and ongoing in this way will make our kids more comfortable asking questions and coming to us with problems.
3. Seize natural opportunities to talk
There are times when an unexpected opportunity presents itself to teach our children something valuable. For example, I noticed my son was amongst a group of boys gently ribbing one of their mates about a girl he liked.
It gave me a chance to talk to my son about what it is to have a crush on someone. In teaching, we call these “teachable moments”. They feel natural and they’re within a context, making the learning more relevant for our children.
4. Use the information + values formula
It feels scary to tell our children about things we don’t want them to do, or don’t want them to do yet. We worry that talking about these things might be misconstrued as giving them permission or encouraging them.
This is why, every time we talk with our kids, we should include what our values around the topic are.
When doing this we need to be careful not to lecture, though, which will close communication down in an instant.
For example, when giving our kids information about birth control, we might include that our beliefs are that both partners are equally responsible for ensuring reliable precautions are taken, out of respect for themselves and each other.
Pairing the information with our values (and the law, when applicable) makes certain that our children have the information they need as well as a social and moral context within which to understand it.
5. Use both the correct and common words
Children need to have the full range of vocabulary necessary to talk about important topics. For example, knowing the correct names of body parts will help them to communicate easily with a health professional.
Using slang might enable them to interact more comfortably and effectively with their peers or partners.
Having these conversations with our kids means getting informed ourselves and, at times, being bold. Using the tips above will make it easier for us and our kids.
It’ll also nurture openness with our children so they can get the information and support they need in order to make good decisions for themselves.
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You can find out more about Julie on her blog Untangling Motherhood