It is certainly true that many sensitive topics in life (the birds and the bees, drugs, divorce or natural disasters) cause even the most comfortable parents to be a little uneasy. While those conversations may not be a piece of cake to discuss, it is always better if the truth comes from you rather than from anyone else. Granted, some of those topics are better covered at an appropriate age, they still can make for a teachable moment at some point.
Child psychologist Eliane Herdani says there are many reasons kids don’t like to talk about certain topics, including a fear of being judged or lectured, or even a feeling of sheer embarrassment.
“Instead of taking the ‘big talk’ approach, look for opportunities in everyday conversation to develop a dialogue with your kids,” she says.
This is the approach I tend to use with my own children. I look for what I call “teachable moments.” These are the moments that occur when a situation presents itself that then allows for open discussion between my child and me.
Here are a few perfect examples:
- A family member drank too much alcohol at a dinner that we all attended. The family member was extremely rude, hurting many people’s feelings as the night progressed. Discretely, I took that teachable moment to explain to my children how alcohol can affect a person’s personality in a negative way. Typically, being drunk is portrayed in a positive light. Now my children could witness firsthand that it isn’t a glamorous thing.
- My daughter told me that a boy she knew from school had been arrested for stealing. This conversation became an opportunity to discuss what happens when children and teens break the law.
My son noticed a magazine cover was highlighting that a teen actor was in rehab for drug use. Again, it was an ideal moment to openly discuss drug use and abuse using something he brought up from his own interests.
The bestselling book, “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, emphasizes being honest and empathetic toward your children during all stages of their development.
“You’ll sense after a while what is helpful to your individual child and what isn’t. With practice you’ll soon discover what irritates and what comforts; what creates distance and what invites intimacy; what wounds and what heals. There is no substitute for your own sensitivity. It is when our words are infused with our real feelings of empathy that they speak directly to a child’s heart.”
Being honest, sharing your own values and beliefs and creating a safe environment for your child to talk are ways that you can become closer to your child. Whether she is a preschooler or a teenager, taking advantage of these moments with her not only strengthens her trust in you, but it also enables her to feel comfortable coming to you with any questions and to know that she can count on you to listen and inform without lecturing.
Tips for talking:
Kids learn best when information is presented at their level, when it is in context and when it is relevant to them. Although we are all prone to doing it, long-winded lectures are not effective. Less is more, and taking a child’s lead by listening closely to their questions and asking them more questions to tease out what they want to know can help limit over-sharing on the part of the parent.
– Erica Curtis, licensed family therapist and faculty member at Loyola Marymount university