Geoffrey Fouracre Talking to Kids

20 Dec Talking To Your Kids About Anything

Raising a child is probably the most gratifying role that any parent will ever have – and arguably, it is the toughest. The article below sets out some practical tips for talking openly with our children about the “tough” issues they will inevitable want to know about; such as sex, drugs, alcohol and death.

Some parents question the appropriateness of talking about sensitive topics with their children. If this has been your thinking, you need to remember that our children are already hearing about these issues from the television, movies, magazines, school friends, and most likely, the internet. If we don’t talk with them early and often, and answer their questions, they’ll get their “facts” from someone else. Sadly, if this happens we will have missed an important opportunity to offer our children information that’s not only accurate, but also in keeping with our own personal values and parenting ideals.

1. WHEN TALKING WITH YOUR CHILDREN – START EARLY

Medical research and public health data tells us that when young children want information and advice they turn to their parents first. Once they reach the teenage years, they tend to depend more on friends and the media. As a parent, we have a wonderful opportunity to talk with our children about these issues first, before anyone else can confuse them with incorrect information or explanations that lack the sense of values we seek to instil. We need to take advantage of all windows of opportunity with children and talk with them earlier and more often – hard as this may be at times.

2. INITIATE CONVERSATIONS

While we want our children to feel comfortable enough to come to us with any questions and concerns, this doesn’t always occur. That’s why it’s perfectly okay, and at times even necessary, to begin the discussions ourselves. Television and other media can be tools for this. As an example, if you and your 12-year-old are watching television together and a sexually suggestive advertisement comes on. You can ask if your child agrees with how the advertiser has presented girls in that ad.  Just one or two questions could help start a valuable discussion about respect of self and others. When such a discussion occurs it is important to use simple, short words and straightforward explanations. If you have children of different ages, try to speak with them separately, even about the same subject. This is important as children of different ages are at different developmental levels; needing different information, sensitivities and vocabulary.

3. …EVEN ABOUT SEX AND RELATIONSHIPS

If you feel uncomfortable talking about sex and relationships with your child, you’re certainly not alone. Many (almost all!) parents feel awkward and uneasy.  However, for your child’s sake, it is important that they get their information from you, rather than through other media that probably won’t recognise the values that you have as a family.

4. CREATE AN OPEN ENVIRONMENT.

Children look to parents for answers only if they feel that we will be open to their questions. It’s up to us to create the kind of atmosphere in which our children can ask any questions, on any subject, freely and without fear of consequence.

How do you create such an atmosphere? By being encouraging, supportive and positive; it’s that simple.

5. TRY TO BE HONEST.

Whatever your children’s age, they deserve honest answers and explanations. It’s what strengthens our children’s ability to trust. When we don’t provide a straightforward answer, young children can make up their own fictitious explanations.

Whilst we may not want or need to share all the details of a particular situation or issue with our child, it is important not to leave big gaps either. When we do, children tend to fill in the blanks themselves, which can generate confusion for them.

6. COMMUNICATE YOUR VALUES.

As a parent, you have a wonderful opportunity to be the first person to talk with your child about tough issues like drugs and violence before anyone else can confuse them with explanations that lack the sensitivity and moral principles you want to instil.

Likewise, when talking with your child about sex it is important to remember that research shows children want moral guidance from their parents, so don’t hesitate to make your beliefs clear.

7. LISTEN TO YOUR CHILD.

How many times do we listen to our children while doing chores, preparing for the next day’s meeting, or pushing a shopping trolley through the supermarket? While that can foster togetherness, it’s important to find time to give children our undivided eye-contact attention. I have found car trips to be an excellent time to have those conversations.

8. BE PATIENT.

It can seem like forever before a youngster gets their “story” out. As adults, we’re tempted to finish the child’s sentence for them, filling in words and phrases in an effort to hear the point sooner. Try to resist this impulse. By listening patiently we allow our children to think at their own pace and we are letting them know we love them and that they are worthy of our time.

9. USE EVERYDAY OPPORTUNITIES TO TALK.

Kids resist formal discussions. And don’t forget, bed time is great time for a “quality chat”.

10.TALK ABOUT IT AGAIN….AND AGAIN.

Repetition is perfectly normal, so be prepared and tolerant. Don’t be afraid to initiate discussions repeatedly, either. Let a little time pass, then ask your child to tell you what they remember about your conversation. Correct any misconceptions and fill in missing facts.

As with most other parenting issues – it is always easier said than done… but we leave it undone at our peril.

Happy talking!

Geoff Fouracre