How to Have Difficult Conversations With Children


talking with kids

With all of the difficult news in the world today, it can be hard to grasp as an adult, and especially as a child. Recently as the news has been overwhelmed with difficult topics ranging from the coronavirus to topics such as racism and police violence, I noticed my 10 and 8-year-old daughters hearing the news and trying to digest it.

It became clear to me that I had to approach both of them in separate ways because of their personalities: one of them immediately asked questions and wanted to sit down and talk, while the other internalized it and needed to find other ways to try to comprehend or she simply was not ready to face all of the questions. This was true about their feelings as well stemming from the isolation of quarantine and time away from school and their friends and extended family.

So, what is the best way to have difficult conversations with kids? And should the approach be tailored based on age and personality?

Of course, age is a factor as far as what very young children can comprehend and be exposed to, but for children around the age of mine, they seem to observe and take in a lot of information. I just wasn’t sure as to how to approach difficult subjects.

Recently, I found an online article that really helped me in formulating a plan, which I used and then tailored to meet the specific personalities of my girls: “10 Ways to Prepare for Difficult Conversations With Children,” dated June 22, 2020 and written by Dr. Sarah Cohen, a child, adolescent, and family psychiatrist.

This article really prepared me for how to respond to questions from my children and how to initiate an honest and informative dialogue about difficult topics such as recent events and how they impact our feelings and those around us.

The article also expresses how to be a positive model for healthy habits and actions, particularly about helping others and volunteering during a time that is difficult for many in our communities.

In starting conversations with one of my daughters who began asking many questions, it was clear she wanted to have a discussion right away and to learn the facts as much as possible. We started to have a “mommy and me” time (or “daddy and me” time) where we would sit alone with her in her room and talk about the facts of current events, how we are responding, and what is being done in our communities to help. And how we can keep each other safe.

For my older daughter, who was not ready to come to me, I needed to allow her time. I also used the advice from the article referenced above to create a special talking time and to remain hopeful while still presenting facts and reality. She was particularly worried about the protests and riots happening around the country. We had discussions, wrote down our feelings, created art, and read books. Reading with her helped to engage in a healthy discussion. I found these books to be particularly helpful: “10 Children’s Books About Racism and Activism to Help Parents Educate Their Kids.” 

When discussing how the coronavirus has impacted many people, and in many ways, I discussed with my children about doing whatever you can to take action to help others. This is a way, as my older daughter expressed, to not feel so helpless about what is happening around you, and to spread positivity and hope. Through Girl Scouts and other programs, my daughters made cards for frontline workers and made a plan to donate to local organizations in our community to help those in need. 

After expressing sadness and isolation from friends and family, we started a pen-pal list (some handwritten and some email) to keep those relationships and stay in touch daily. With my parents, we set up Zoom chats three times a week and incorporated games, fun activities, and reading time.

Overall, I’ve found that open and honest communication is so important and figuring out the how and when is dependent on the age and personality of the particular child. If one of my daughters has difficulty expressing their feelings or coming to talk to me about a challenging topic, I let her know I’m always there when she’s ready. It is paramount in strengthening trust and confidence. Sometimes, when the conversation is not quite ready to happen, writing down our feelings or reading books helps to spark the confidence or present a different avenue for expressing emotions.

How do you approach difficult conversations with your children?


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