Tips for tough conversations with children

Having tough conversations with children is inevitable, yet it is something that many avoid as it makes them uneasy. As difficult as it is to have these conversations, failure to discuss some critical issues might lead to misinformation and increased levels of anxiety. Below are tips to help with challenging conversations with children.

Plan ahead

Talk to trusted family and friends to decide how to conduct tough conversations with children.
Gather relevant facts and additional resources using online sources, books and seek professional advice.
Reflect on your own experiences, biases and views. Be willing to be comfortable with being uncomfortable while having tough conversations.
Prepare in advance by rehearsing and practicing in your head, to a mirror or with another adult to make the conversation easier.

Consider their perspective

Consider your child’s age, experience, personality and maturity level to engage in the conversations that meet their needs.
Make it more relatable and accessible by keeping the conversation simple; use analogies to explain certain complex issues or share personal experiences
Expect differences of opinion or challenging questions to arise during discussion. Remain as neutral as possible and seek to understand your child’s perspectives.

Strategize an optimal time

Choose when to conduct conversation. It could be a one-on-one conversation during a walk or in a car, or even involving the entire family during dinner time or in a family meeting.
Know that it might require multiple attempts to get conversation going and you may need to revisit the topics.
Break down any complex and emotionally charged conversations into multiple smaller conversations.
Remain calm and neutral when the tough conversations resulted in intense emotions or heated dialogues.

Set the tone 

Give children your undivided attention and let them know that you are there to listen and answer questions. Practice active listening and allow them time to speak and process the information.
Validate their emotions and acknowledge their perspectives
Find out how much they know about the subject and then share relevant information – avoid over-sharing or sharing of any disturbing details.
If other unrelated topics come up, try to understand your child’s thought process. Pause the conversation and revisit the topic at another time if your child shows signs of distress and needs time to process what you have discussed.

Move forward

Reassure your child that he/she can revisit the topic, and seek support from parents, extended family, counsellor, teachers or other significant adults or friends.
Seek professional help if your child experiences extreme stress and anxiety levels.
While difficult conversations can be messy, try to end with a positive note. Let children know that you are there to support them, and that together as a family, you can overcome any challenges.

Having tough conversation can be a challenging learning process. The good news is that the more you have these conversation with children, the easier it will become and your connection with them will grow stronger.
– Canadian Immigrant

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