Talking to Your Child about Difficult Topics

I’m not as active on my blog as I’d like, but apparently, there are some things that grab my attention and motivate me to write and post – unfortunately, it’s tragedy. In the last week, two shootings and pipe bombs were fueled by hate. Topics, such as these, are disturbing and may feel difficult to talk about with your child. With the advent of social media and 24-hour news, information spreads quickly. Shielding your child from the news and information is not an option. Other recent events include school shootings, bullying, suicide, racism, and sexual assault. What’s a parent to do? In short, keep the lines of communication open.

  • Children may or may not have strong feelings about an event or even be aware of the event. Find out what they know, without interrogating them, by making a brief statement or observation. For example, I heard some people talking about the shooting in Pittsburgh. I wondered if you’d heard about or talked about that. This allows you to correct any mis-information as well as understand your child’s perspective.

  • Listen to what your child has to say. Let your child’s answers guide your conversations. Let conversations occur naturally and potentially in small parts.

  • Be brief. Stick to the facts. Be truthful. Respond at an age-appropriate level. Younger children may worry about more concrete, practical issues; whereas older children may worry more about the implications of an event.

  • Provide reassurance about their safety if needed (i.e., what plans are in place) and what they can do if appropriate.  

  • Although you may have your own fears or discomfort related to talking about a potential situation, avoid transmitting your own anxiety to your children. Children often listen in to adult conversations, so be aware of your potential audience if you are discussing an event with another person.

  • Teach your children inclusion, kindness, empathy. Teach them to speak up and speak out. Teach them that individuals can make a difference. We can’t necessarily prevent senseless acts of violence, but we can still be empowered to make a difference in the world.

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In sum, be available to talk as needed, but don’t over-emphasize a situation. Take your cues from child about how much an issue may or may not need to be addressed.

Additional Resources:

How to talk to children about difficult news

How to Talk to Kids About Difficult Subjects

Talking to Children About Tragedies & Other News Events