One of the hardest parts of parenting is discussing and addressing hard topics with a child – death, sexuality, “bad” people, homelessness, bullying, current events, etc. Even though we know the questions will come, we are never quite ready, are we?
Here are some tips to reflect upon, and prepare you, for when those questions arrive because they will!
1. Understand your personal values.
Make sure as you become a parent and your child grows you know how you, and your partner, feel about certain things. If you don't hold a specific view on an issue, or your view is open, that's okay, but own it and be ready to explain honestly to your child you aren't sure about something either. It’s similar to apologizing to your child – admitting you don’t know something, or need time to think about an answer, shows your humanity and vulnerability. Don’t be afraid to be direct and honest about your family values.
2. Have direct conversations.
Answer questions as clearly as you can and only the question asked – no more, no less. Take a moment to breathe and give thought to your answer and explain to your child it's what you are doing. They’ll wait. Do not avoid topics or tell your child to not ask “that” question. These reactions lead to fear and shame and your child will find answers elsewhere - likely places you may not want influencing him/her. Additionally, if your child is asking you questions which raise red flags about a person in their life, school, etc. make sure to calmly inquire further and make sure your child is safe and secure. It is our job to find out what might be beneath concerning inquiries.
3. Model your values and views.
A parent can answer all questions by the book but if you aren't living in a way in which reflects what you say your child will notice. As you reflect on your values and views be sure your life expresses your true feelings. Again, if issues arise where you're not sure where you stand, express this to your child. Current events are a great example where as adults we might be collecting information about a topic and have not come to a conclusion or opinion. Explain the process of reflections and your thinking to your child as this is modeling thoughtful and wise behavior.
4. Understand, and remember, questions and imaginative play can be ways for children work out feelings and consequently build trust with you.
Children’s behavior and questions can make us uncomfortable and worried. Be sure to support your child when they are working through confusing and curious times in their life. Being open, honest, and supportive will build trust and reinforce them turning to you for answers, not others. Be watchful of their behavior but avoid shaming and embarrassing them if what they ask, or play out, makes you uncomfortable. If you're unsure about their behavior, ask questions so you can figure out from where inquiries and curiosities are coming. Directly tell your child you are happy he/she asks you questions and explain how you and home are safe places to talk about hard things.