How to Have Difficult Conversations With Your Kids

We know life isn’t perfect. Tricky, sad or scary situations will arise in our personal and family lives, and there will be moments when it’s difficult to navigate discussing these intense topics or life changes.

With children especially, how we choose to tackle these conversations can make an impact on growth and development. Teaching them to express themselves early on will set them up for success and emotional intelligence as they grow.

Big life changes require insurance, both literal and metaphorical. Just as life insurance can help secure your assets, these conversations can help your children feel secure in themselves and the world around them. Read on for tips on how to navigate a few big life changes and situations with your kids.

How to Talk to Kids About Death

Kids react to death in different ways, depending on age, closeness to the loss and their involvement in the event. To help them feel supported during a confusing time, it’s important to monitor a child’s grief and let them express it when they need to.

Use Clear Words

It doesn’t help to sugarcoat the situation, and may actually make your child feel confused about what has occurred. When you decide to tell your child that their loved one has died, be gentle yet upfront.

For example: Instead of saying a loved one has “passed on,” tell your child directly that they died — and explain what this means, if needed — and give them a moment to process the information.

Help Them Articulate Their Feelings

Experiencing a death at a young age — especially if it’s the first time a child has lost someone close to them — can be confusing and present new feelings that your child hasn’t felt yet. Help guide them toward how they feel while still giving them space to decide on their own.

For example: Say, “I know it’s very sad. How do you feel?”

Balance the Conversation

It can be hard to remain positive while you’re grieving, but it’s important for your child to see positivity amidst their negative emotions. Balance the heavy topics of loss and grief by fondly remembering the loved one who has died together, or by trying to bring back some normalcy for your child with casual conversation.

For example: Instead of only discussing how their loved one is gone, ask your child, “what is one fond memory you have of this person?”

Printable Mood Tracker

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As your child processes the death, their mood will wax and wane. Use this printable mood tracker to help them communicate their feelings — each number on the tracker corresponds to a day of the month. Create a key of colors and have your child color in each day’s block with the color that represents how they feel.

For example: Red = angry, green = happy, yellow = hopeful, blue = sad, etc.

How to Talk to Kids About Bullying

Whether you discover your child is a bully or is being bullied, it’s a jarring realization. It can be scary to confront this situation and navigate what’s best for your child while finding a way to put a stop to the behavior.

Be An Active Listener

Talking about bullying, whether your child is bullying or being bullied, can be awkward. If you interrupt or talk over your child, they may lose interest or shy away from this important conversation. Make sure to intently listen and wait for them to finish speaking before you start.

For example: Ask, “How are you feeling, and what happened?”

Offer Your Perspective and Experiences

Since you’re the parent, it might be hard for your child to understand that you’ve been a child as well. Explain to them that you relate to how hard it can be to be a kid, and tell them about your experience growing up and growing through bullying.

For example: Relate to them by saying, “I felt the same when I was younger.”

Offer Third-Party Help

Make sure your child knows the resources and community that are available to them, and encourage them to reach out into their community if they don’t want to keep the conversation at home. Tell them they can talk to their school’s guidance counselor if they want help navigating their school life, or can join extracurriculars if they need a community of like-minded people.

For example: Ask them, “Do you want some help figuring out how to handle this? I can get some resources for you.”

How to Talk to Kids About Divorce

Divorce presents a big life change for your child, who will have to get used to living in two homes or not seeing a parent. Talking to your child throughout this process can help them understand their new normal and how to navigate it.

Unify Your Story

You don’t want to confuse your child — or make them feel like your separation is their fault. To avoid this, first unify your story with your partner so your child will get the same answers from both parents. If possible, deliver the news together.

For example: Gather the entire family together if possible and say, “We have something we would like to discuss.”

Keep It Simple

Your children are on a need-to-know basis with your separation, and don’t need to know the difficult, adult details. Keep your message to the point and explain the basics: that you are separating, and there will be some changes to their daily routine. They don’t need to know all the reasons why.

For example: Say, “We’re going to be living apart now, and that’s going to mean some changes for you as well.”

Check-In Regularly

Your children will likely have fluctuations in their response to and feelings about the divorce. Help support them through these emotions by regularly checking in and asking them if they need anything, or if they’d like to discuss what’s happening. If the divorce is amicable, getting together as a family every few weeks or month can help with this as well.

For example: Ask your child, “You seem quiet today. Would you like to discuss the separation, or do you need anything?”

Printable Planner Stickers

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This big life change will mean a new schedule for your child. To help them cope with the change, buy them a planner and printable stickers that they can use to track which day they’re going to spend with each parent.

How to Talk to Kids About Sex

Children are often exposed to sex earlier than anticipated. Brushing off this conversation can make your child feel isolated or confused about their bodies and hormones, so it’s important you’re  prepared to tackle the subject when it comes. It’s also a good idea to bring the conversation up yourself to control the narrative before your child is exposed to it.

Avoid Excessive “Don’ts”

Overtly negative attitudes or language about sex and sexuality can make your child feel ashamed or scared to broach the subject. Rather than focusing on the “don’ts” — such as “don’t get pregnant,” “don’t have sex,” and “don’t go on dates — ” refocus the conversation to safety, responsibility and context.

For example: Instead of “don’t have sex,” say, “This is a huge decision that you shouldn’t take lightly, and it’s important to be mature when making the decision to have sex, and to be safe.”

Keep Their Age in Mind

How you frame the conversation about sex is related to how old your child is. Younger children may ask about it or communicate feelings they can’t quite understand, and it’s important to put this topic into terms that make sense for their age. Older kids who might be starting to date or who are experiencing new hormonal feelings need a different conversation.

For example: If your child is too young for the talk, say, “What you’re feeling is natural, and you’re going to learn a lot more about it as you get older.”

Let them Take the Reins

Take note of what your child is thinking or asking about, and let that shape the conversation you have with them. Let them disclose what they’re comfortable with and use that as a starting point for jumping into a larger conversation about sexuality, safety and growth. Don’t pressure them into more than they’re comfortable with.

For example: Say, “Your body is changing. Did you have anything you wanted to talk about or ask me about?”

How to Talk to Kids About Race

Talking to kids about race, racism and inequality is a tough but important conversation. Having these talks can help you raise an empathetic, kind and inclusive child that won’t shy away from these subjects in their own lives.

Be Willing to Talk

By addressing your child’s questions about skin tones and colors, they will start to understand this is a topic about which they can be open. Shushing your child or brushing off these questions can make your child believe race is a topic that they shouldn’t talk about.

For example: If your child asks about someone’s skin tone, tell them, “All humans are different, including our skin color. Isn’t that great?”

Expose Your Child to Different Cultural Experiences

A good way to teach your child about something new is to show them. Expose your child to movies, foods and books that feature and highlight races other than your own. Normalize an appreciation and celebration of other races, and discuss with your child the aspects of each new culture they learn about.

For example: Watch a movie from a different country and say, “What do you like about the movie? What sticks out to you?”

Be Understanding and Ready to Teach

Society exposes children to different ideas quickly, both through media and at school or out in public places. If your child unknowingly says something insensitive or asks an insensitive question, don’t punish or lash out at them. Focus instead on challenging their perspective.

For example: Say, “What you said could be considered offensive because REASON. Why did you say that, or what prompted it?”

Printable “I Feel _____” Game

Teaching kids about empathy and inclusion starts with the skin tones and genders they see every day, including in the media they consume. This printable activity can help kids pinpoint their emotions while also having them empathize and relate to people who may not look like them.

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General Tips for Talking to Kids

As they grow, kids learn how to become better listeners and communicators. This can be a frustrating process to navigate, but there are ways we can communicate with children that will make their growth process easier.

Use Their Name

When you call a child by their name in conversation, it makes them feel special and gives them a cue that they should listen. As they learn new concepts, their name is something that is always familiar and means that they need to pay attention. Calling a child by their name during conversation can help them recognize they need to devote energy to listening.

For example: Instead of “do you want to talk?” say, “Joey, do you want to talk?”

Ask Open-Ended Questions

To help your child become open to exploring their ideas and feelings, ask open-ended questions. This will help them learn to articulate their ideas beyond “yes” and “no,” and will help them grow into a better communicator.

For example: Instead of, “are you feeling okay?” ask, “can you describe how you’re feeling?”

Allow Them to Express Their Feelings

As kids attempt to express and figure out their feelings, they can have a tendency to ramble. Rather than ignoring them or dictating the conversation, give them space to express their ideas and wait until they’re finished to ask questions. Don’t interrupt or try to shape their feelings, but rather practice active listening and ask for clarification when needed.

For example: Ask, “What did you mean by that?”

Printable Conversation Starter and Reflection Sheet

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Teaching your child to communicate may be awkward or uncomfortable at first. Use this printable starter and reflection sheet to guide your conversation and get further insight into how your child feels.

The way we talk to our children can impact the way they grow and learn about the world. Confronting difficult situations head-on can foster individuality, confidence and empathy in children that will be extremely valuable for them later in life. It’s good to start this practice of having difficult conversations early.

Difficult conversations can bring up a mix of emotions about life changes such as divorce or death. For added security that you’re doing all you can to provide for your family, get a free life insurance quote from Bestow.

Sources: KidsHealth | Psychology Today | Motherly (2) | Healthy Children | Child Development Info

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