As parents and caregivers, we do our best to shield and protect our children from unpleasant things as much as possible, but the reality is that we just simply are not able to protect them from everything that the world sends their way. Just like adults, when children experience or hear of something scary, they may have a lot of questions. Sometimes difficult questions can take parents by surprise, so it’s a good idea to plan in advance, especially when the questions are about more serious, scary topics for children, such as illnesses or death.
So, what should families keep in mind when having these more difficult conversations?
- Be honest: It is critical not to avoid or try to brush off the questions as that may cause confusion and perhaps even fear if children pick up your discomfort on the subject. Having the discussion with your children will not only provide them with a better understanding and minimize their fears, but it will also help develop their coping skills and instill resiliency in them during their early childhood years.
- Stay Child-Centered: It is very important to discuss these topics at the child’s level of understanding. Talking in abstract terms or using complicated phrases may only cause confusion. This doesn’t mean that spiritual or religious beliefs should be omitted; only that they should be communicated at an appropriate level that your child can understand. Families are encouraged to be honest while still being compassionate and understanding. Children need a clear description that makes sense to them. Often this type of honest, clear, and simple explanation is enough for a youngster. Be patient and provide a consistent answer that provides the information the child is seeking.
- Use Real World Examples: Families should also remember to use simple examples, especially with younger children, and try not to include too many concepts at one time. Reading a book about these types of subjects that is at an appropriate level for the child’s age can help you to start the conversation and will allow children to ask the questions they may be worrying about.
- Listen to Your Child’s Feelings: Empathic listening is all about helping someone to see that you understand them, and you have heard them. Breathe, stay present, and resist the urge to make your child’s troublesome feelings go away. Often, your child just needs a chance to be heard while they express their feelings.
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