One of the toughest jobs about parenting is talking to your kids about difficult subjects. Whether it’s having to break some bad news or trying to figure out more about a situation that doesn’t feel quite right, addressing difficult subjects can make your children feel closer to you and can strengthen your bond.
The way you approach a discussion is going to depend on a number of things, including how old your child is and what it is you want to talk about. Here are some suggestions on how to encourage your children to open up and talk to you about a difficult subject that might be troubling them.
5 tips to approaching those difficult subjects
1. Create the right environment
Whatever it is you want to discuss, it is important to think about where and how you will talk so your children are comfortable and will talk. The timing of the conversation is important, as it’s not a great idea to have a discussion at night when people are tired. Additionally, it might be a good idea to have a discussion in a relaxed and neutral place, such as on a walk or even in the car.
2. Start the conversation
Once you have created the ideal environment in which you and your child can be honest with each other you can start the conversation. If you go in too forcefully, they may clam up and not say a word. However, if you take a more subtle approach you may get distracted by another topic and end up discussing something completely different. You could try and make the conversation relevant. For example, you may be watching something together on TV and the plot line is similar to the subject you want to discuss you could ask: ‘what would you do in that situation?’ or ‘how do you feel about that?’. As long as your child feels safe, loved and supported they will feel that they can be honest and safely share their concerns and problems about a difficult subject that is bothering them.
3. Give them space
Regardless of the environment or how you start the conversation, try and have realistic expectations. It may not go as well as you were hoping for, possibly because your child doesn’t want to talk about such a difficult subject. In this situation, you should give them the space they need to process their emotions on their own. To broach the subject again, you can tell your child a story about a similar situation that you went through. After sharing this story and showing that you empathise, you can ask your child if they ‘are ready to talk about it?’. They may be more willing to open up to you this time, but if not, they just need more time.
4. Remember to listen
When your child does open up to you and tell you what’s been troubling them, don’t forget that it is a two-way conversation. For them to feel involved, it’s very important to show that you are listening to them and really value what they are telling you. Start by asking questions that don’t just have ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers. This will give your child the chance to tell you what they really think. Give them as long as they need to answer your questions without interrupting – they could be nervous or still contemplating what they really think and want to say. Don’t be afraid to let your child ask questions as well. Be honest with them about how you feel about certain subjects and let them know about things that have happened to you in the past.
5. Stay available
It is really important to let your children know they can trust you to keep their confidence and that you want them to always feel like they can talk to you. They may even come to you with a concern about a difficult subject involving someone else – they may have a friend who is being bullied, or it could be about something they’ve tried, such as sexting or trying alcohol. It probably would have taken a lot of courage for them to come to you, so make them feel as comfortable as possible about continuing the conversation and having a discussion. You can ask your child what they would like you to do about the situation, and if you can’t do anything, you can reassure and support.