Many adults struggle when communicating with their children. Talking with a child is an even bigger problem when dealing with sensitive issues. Some subjects may embarrass you because of the topic. Other issues may intimidate you because of how little you know about them. Sometimes, the desire to protect a child’s innocence makes adults hesitate to raise some subjects or to answer a child’s questions directly.
It is not always possible to protect children from unpleasantness, no matter how hard we try. A child could be exposed to negative, risky or dangerous situations at any time in life. Children are also exposed to emotional hurt, such as the pain and grief that follows a divorce or death in the family or another serious loss. A child’s best defense in situations like these is to be prepared.
Use these tips to guide you during a discussion with your child about situations that could threaten their physical and mental health and well-being:
- Always be clear, direct and specific: Let the child know exactly what is expected in different situations. Teach him or her what to say, what to do and where to go. Help the child understand that someone who does not respect his or her decision or choice may not be the best person to be around – even someone he or she likes and trusts. If the child loses a friend due to taking a stand on a matter, offer sympathy to the child, but do not criticize the lost friend.
- Take advantage of media events to discuss sensitive issues: Television, newspapers, movies and even books and magazines can present openings for discussion. Crimes and acts of violence occur in every community. Do not ignore or try to cover up a situation. Talk about it. Ask the child what he or she thinks and feels, and reassure him or her as much as possible about personal safety. Try to avoid letting younger children see too many news reports about violence. Violence that gets a lot of media attention could make a child feel vulnerable and threatened, even when the child’s family or community is not directly affected.
- Dialogue often works better than lecturing: Some behaviors can be very frightening to parents, especially when drugs are involved. In such a situation, discuss the issue when you are not upset. It is important to have a child’s attention and to be able to watch his or her reaction. Note that the child may not readily accept what is being discussed. The child may disagree that the behavior could be harmful or argue that everyone is doing it. Listen to the child’s opinion, but provide solid facts. Be ready to back them up. Talk about concerns, and be sure the child understands your position on the issue.
- Always leave an opening for future discussions: Children need time to think things through and get used to a new idea, especially when they do not agree with adults. Do not argue; present the facts and your position. Never switch sides just because the child is unhappy with what is being said and enforced. The child probably will never express it, but he or she will respect an adult for staying firm. Be ready and available for a discussion if the topic comes up again.
- Listen: There could be a time when the child is dealing with a difficult matter and comes to you in a roundabout way. Be sensitive to the child’s moods and behaviors so the signals cannot be missed. A child could be having problems in a relationship or with decision-making and need an adult to provide guidance.
- Be honest: No one person has all the answers for every situation. Be forthright, and say you do not know if you do not. Refer to other resources to be of assistance to the child.
Even though communication between adults and children seems to get more difficult as a child grows older, as a trusting adult, you are still his or her first and best line of defense in difficult times.
Be sure that your child knows he or she can count on support in every situation. Having this confidence in a relationship makes it easier for a child to seek advice and to share problems and concerns.
I Hope this helps,