“How can I talk to my kid about _______?”

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Photo by stephanski, used under Creative Commons license.

We love our questions posts, and we’ve noticed that a lot of them tend to be about talking about a particularly challenging topic with your kids. We’ve also noticed that even though the topic changes, the advice is usually similar — so it seems that it would be helpful to collect some of our favorite, most relevant bits of advice in one place. It doesn’t mean these questions are no longer welcome, it just means that we may have a new spot to refer you if you send one in that’s similar to what’s been on the site before.

I think that it’s important to make it an ongoing dialogue, and to balance that with really listening to what your child has to say. I often felt like my mother wasn’t listening to me, and was only interested in telling me about her stories. I ultimately stopped telling her about the things that were going on in my life, which meant that I went through some pretty serious stuff without the support that I know she wanted to give me. — How and when do you tell your kids your dirty little secrets?
I talk about things at the dinner table that I have read on the internet. For instance, I would say, “Hey I read this article about talking about differences between people, like if someones has different religious beliefs or if someone has physical disabilities. If you had never seen someone with a ________________, what would you think? Would you have questions? Would you feel comfortable asking them or not? What do you think?”

I think that these conversations are pretty easy once kids get to school age. Before then, I usually just wait until something happens to bring it to the child’s attention. — How do you talk to your kids about differences?

Best approach I’ve heard:
“Look for the helpers. The day it happened, we were already thinking about Mister Rogers, and his saying that “when bad things happen, look for the helpers.” Good people will always help. Think about how many people rushed in to help, gave blood, looked for people, put up fliers, volunteered in zillions of ways, prayed, cried, listened. Think about how many of us are still helping now. Yes, bad people do bad things, but good people pick up the pieces and help.”
Obviously changing it to “sometimes bad and scary things happen, but good people pick up the pieces and help.” — How can I explain scary events and tragedies to my toddler?
In the past when there have been posts on the theme of “How do I tell my kid about…?” questions on Offbeat Mama, people offer something along the lines of “Make sure you don’t offer more information than they’re really asking for/needing/ready to understand.” For example, I thought about how I would tell my daughter that she doesn’t have any grandpas, long before she wondered, but decided to wait to talk about it until she noticed. At around 2.5 she noticed. She didn’t so much ask as she did tell me, that she didn’t have any grandpa’s. I confirmed that, “You’re right, you don’t have any grandpa’s. Some kids have grandpa’s and some don’t.” She seemed satisfied, so I didn’t launch into the lecture I had brewing. It’s an imperfect science. … I know that can be unsettling, when sometimes kids just want one real, infallible truth, but I think it’s important to let them experience that uneasiness, and get used to the idea that opinions don’t make facts. — How can I explain where my deceased daughter is to our future children without bringing up religion?
I don’t think it has to be a big sit down discussion, certainly not when the the kids are little. A lot of it can be little, daily things like “this is one of daddy’s sad times. He will feel better in a few days (Or whatever the appropriate time scale is).” I don’t have kids yet, but I do have mood disorders (And a family history of mood disorders), so take my advice in that light, but my suggestion would be: Give it a label they can understand. Tell them what is expected of them, if anything. And reassure them that things are still ok. Or, at least, will be. — How do you decide when to tell your kid about your personality disorder(s)?

Which advice questions and answers have been your favorites — what advice has really stood out to you?

Comments on “How can I talk to my kid about _______?”

  1. We’re a recently blended family; a few months after our marriage, my husband & I became pregnant. A few months after that, my teenage step-son and his girlfriend became pregnant as well. It was a delicate discussion between myself, my husband and our 2 daughters (then 9& 10) about how different people decide at different times in their lives to have babies. We didn’t want to come across as critical of the situation yet we didn’t want to leave them thinking they wanted to be mommies themselves in a few years. Basically, we left it as “some people decide to have babies at different ages; it’s going to be very hard for your brother at such a young age, however we love him & the baby very much.” still wish i had some advice back then, though….

  2. My advice is usually to turn the questions around and ask the child what he/she thinks. I’ve learned more and had better discussions when I ask rather than tell.

    • This is a great advice! Especially when a child asks a question you think might be age inappropriate like about sex or drugs or life situations. Often they aren’t asking what you might think they are.

      A child I knew once asked her mother (at the tender age of 4) where babies came from. Instead of panicking, the mother asked what the daughter thought and it turned out she wanted to know WHERE the baby came out of the mom. She worried it was the belly button! So the mom explained it came out her private parts and the child was satisfied. That saved her a LONG and probably age-inappropriate discussion of the birds and the bees with her daughter.

      • There was a similar story in my faith’s magazine where the mom asked about what they talked about in Religious Education that day and the child said, “terrorists.” Luckily the mom was composed enough to ask, “And what is a terrorist?” because the child said, “someone who goes to a place to see things.” Yeah, *tourists*. I remember the article going on to say that clearly her kid had heard the word “terrorist” but still didn’t have context for it, and she was glad she didn’t launch into a discussion of terrorists!

        • This reminds me of the day my son told me about his tenticles-you know, that stuff that hangs out near his penis?

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