Can you recall a tough conversation that went terribly wrong?
You started out with good intentions but, without warning, it spiraled out of control. A helpful conversation turned into a mad dash for the exit and left you muttering under your breath, “Never again!” Trust us. We’ve ALL been there at one point in life.
Here’s the problem.
Skipping difficult conversations doesn’t make the problem go away and putting these talks off just drags out the issue. We all know this, right?
But the truth is more than 50% of parents are opting out of tough conversations with their kids, especially on sensitive digital topics like online predators, sextortion, pornography, body image, sexting, or cyberbullying.
It’s comforting to think we’ve protected them well enough that they won’t encounter any of these things.
In that case, a conversation isn’t necessary because our kids don’t need it.
Or it’d feel awkward.
Or it’d open up more questions in their minds than before.
We’ve got to break it to you.
These are all the wrong reasons to skip tough conversations with your kid.
Avoiding these difficult conversations doesn't keep your kids from learning about these topics. It just makes it more likely that they will learn about them on their own through social media, browsing the internet, and talking with a classmate.
So, before we send you off to start these conversations with your kid (because they need to happen sooner rather than later!), let’s give you some practical tools.
We can’t guarantee that these difficult conversations won’t feel awkward but there are practical tips you can follow to make it just a little easier on yourself.
1) Prepare for challenging conversations ahead of time.
It almost goes without saying that you should spend time thinking carefully about what you want to say. It’s important to go into difficult conversations with a plan to identify what your child already knows about the topic and what you hope to communicate to them.
But, that step alone isn’t enough.
Head into the conversation with an action plan for a shocking revelation.
The truth is, we never really know the extent of our kid’s knowledge about a hard topic. Maybe they were exposed to it at school. Maybe they discovered it online on their own and didn’t say anything.
Whatever the case, heading into a conversation assuming they have no experience with the topic will lead to a nasty shock. What normally follows?
A whole host of negative emotions leak into the conversation and quickly shut down any possibility of communication with your kid.
That’s why it’s vital to prepare beforehand. Talking about tough topics is hard enough without negative emotions getting in the way. The only way to keep the lines of communication open is to proceed with calm.
2) Be honest, especially if the truth isn’t pretty.
We get it. As parents, we want to protect our kids from anything that could cause them anxiety, pain, or fear. We want to keep them young and innocent as long as possible.
But, the reality is it hurts them in the long run and breaks down their trust in you.
In our digital world, a flood of information is just one search away. That means if you don’t give them a clear response, they will likely seek the answer from another source, one you can’t control.
This is especially true if they sense you’re hiding something from them. Suddenly, they’ll question if they can trust you when they need help navigating a difficult topic. They’ll turn elsewhere and if they find the answer from a different source, that doubt will be confirmed.
What happens? Their trust will be broken and, when another tough topic comes up, they probably won’t turn to you.
So, what’s the solution to all this?
Find out what’s developmentally appropriate for their age and tell your kid the truth as plainly as you can.
3) Keep difficult conversations short and simple.
Take the pressure off both of you by setting the expectation for a short and direct conversation.
Now, we get it. Our gut tends to tell us the opposite. We’d rather sit down and have it all out at once so we can check it off our list.
But, think about this further.
You might feel the pressure of having a drawn-out discussion. You might feel like you have to rigorously prepare for every possibility.
For your kid, the conversation might quickly become overwhelming or feel like it’s turned into an interrogation, especially if it’s the first time you’ve talked about the topic.
Ditch all that and just stick with this:
Tell only the facts.
Get rid of any unnecessary details.
Use age-appropriate language.
Watch for verbal or non-verbal cues that the conversation is becoming too much.
Once you’ve covered all these bases, it’s ok to let the conversation end! These small talks lay the groundwork for continued talks in the future.
Now that you have some tools, time to put them into practice and start engaging your kid on tough topics.
We know it might be hard but you got this!