Tough Talking - How To Talk To Your Kids About Anything

It has been one of those weird weeks in my house, one of those weeks when a particular theme just keeps on coming up, challenging your parenting skills and pickling your brain in the process. In my case, it was the dreaded curse of Talking With Your Kids About Tricky Subjects. Busy Husband and I should qualify for some kind of UN grant or at least a doctorate in Delicate Diplomacy after running this emotional gauntlet that saw us chatting pseudo-casually about serious illness and death, puberty and gun crime - and that was only Monday morning. By Friday, we had added sex, insecure friends and what happens in a courtroom to the list. And it wasn't only the Tweenager with a questioning streak: it must have been catching as Goldilocks was also keen to know the answers to some troublesome topics. They ranged from the deeply philosophical 'Are cows ticklish?' to the more heartbreakingly serious 'Will my friends come to live in England, too?' Busy Husband and I blamed this new-found, slightly maniacal curiosity on our impending move and silently pleaded for it to stop. Our forced smiles through gritted teeth were beginning to make our cheeks ache and we were constantly persecuted by the worry that our explanations to some of the world's trickiest questions had actually managed to scare and scar our kids for life in the space of a week. What was next? Gay bishops? Or the biggie: Is Santa Real?

Well, Question Time At The Newhouses seems to have finished for this series but it really forced me to think on my feet and I saw with blinding clarity that so much of parenting is about forward planning, not to mention damage limitation. Not only would it have been handy to have actually realised that my kids were 'at that age' when they actually want to know more about the world than simply how to find Cyprus on a map, it would also have helped if I knew my own position on so many of the questions asked of me this past week. Nothing focuses your attention like an eight-year-old with no inhibitions wanting to know why a man killed 32 other young people with a gun, or what happens when you get your period. Erring on the side of calm, cautious pragmatism is obvious but when the shock of seeing your baby grow up in front of your eyes combines with sticky questions at inopportune moments (the birds and the bees in the supermarket, anyone?), it's a brave woman who can look her daughter in the eye and answer with anything but a muttered 'Not here.'

I remember my parents' divorce, when I was seven. I particularly remember that no one ever talked to me about it very much and my (few) questions were brushed aside and avoided, in pain as much as anything else. Now, as a happily married parent, the idea of explaining divorce sends chills down my spine and makes chatting about my granny's recent stroke seem like a doddle in comparison. My childhood experiences have also cemented one thing in my mind: be honest, even if it makes you squirm. However, when the Tweenager's eyes glazed over as I waxed lyrical about the importance of team spirit, I also understood that there is such a thing as too much honesty and too much information. So much of doing the tricky stuff with kids is about knowing, quite frankly, when to shut up. My daughter didn't want a tutorial in coeducational group dynamics, she just wanted to chat about being friends with more than one person at a time.

So, how much should you share with your inquisitive child? Even more scary, how much does your child actually know about the world around them? And how much do they know, that you don't know they know (erm, you get my point)? In our house, the news is often on, we leave the newspaper lying around and we chat openly about what's going on in the world and in our lives, good and bad. But, after this week, I began to wonder whether I have in fact been irresponsible in exposing my children to so much information. Don't get me wrong, we don't have post-dinner discussion groups over coffee and mints ('Brad and Angelina and the concepts of cross-cultural adoptive processes - discuss'), but I also don't pretend that 'bad' or uncomfortable stuff doesn't happen. Kids are exposed to disturbing and overwhelming events at an ever-younger age and I would argue that a parent surely wants their child to be as prepared as possible? But that's the problem isn't it, fellow parents: by hiding the cruel truth about the world from our children, we are only delaying our own pain, aren't we? Our kids want the world to be a safe and predictable place and the fact that we have to take away a tiny bit of their innocence by explaining that the opposite is in fact true far, far outweighs any discomfort we might have about explaining what a condom is for...

How to Talk the Talk

Start Early

Kids are exposed to graphic information early. They might not be mature but they are aware.

Do It Yourself

Your kids won't always come to you. Use everyday events to initiate conversations.

..Even about Sex

Yup, it's awkward but you've still got to do it!

Create a Safe Environment

Make sure your kids feel safe to express themselves.

What Are Your Values?

You don't need to preach, just add your moral position to the all-important facts.

Listen to Your Child

Only this way will you gauge their level of understanding.

Try to be Honest

Honesty builds trust and will help negate their own fanciful, potentially frightening explanations.

Be Patient

Give them the opportunity to ask and ask and ask.

Talk About it Again. And Again.

Don't be afraid to revisit a topic. It's a good way of assessing how much they took in first time round.

Nikki is a freelance writer whose work is regularly commissioned by and published in a variety of international magazines and newspapers. As a mother of three young daughters, her writing often focuses on parenting and lifestyle issues but, secretly, Nikki also has a 'proper' job, as an expert writer on overseas real estate investment. She acts as a consultant to agents and developers, identifying and marketing key emerging markets. She is currently collaborating with Property Club International. See more at []

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS


Post a Comment