Hope For The Journey

A Child Therapist
Shares How to
Address Difficult
Topics with Your

As a therapist who works with children and teens, parents/guardians often ask for guidance on how to talk to their kids about divorce, sex, death, puberty, war, tragedies, and so many other things. After all, there is constant media coverage of endless amounts of complicated, heartbreaking, and serious circumstances and events that children are bound to become aware of one way or another. Social media like TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube also expose our kids to a wide range of sometimes inappropriate topics that understandably lead to lots of questions. 


Unlike adults – who for the most part have fully developed brains and a wealth of life experiences that help us understand complex issues – children have a much more limited worldview and a harder time making meaning of these types of issues and need some help figuring things out from the person they trust the most: you!


It’s easy to determine whether or not you should address difficult topics with your children (most likely, you should), but how you address these topics feels so much harder. You’re going to have these difficult conversations a little differently with a five-year-old than you would a teenager. Five-year-olds and teenagers’ brains are so different developmentally so they are going to have different thoughts, feelings, and questions in response to difficult topics and all of that can make actually having these conversations stressful and overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be.


How to Address Difficult Topics with Your Children

Whether you’re talking to your first grader about a mass shooting or your high schooler about sex and healthy relationships, here are some things to keep in mind before, during, and after a heart-to-heart with your child.


Addressing Difficult Topics with Your Child Tip #1: Get Curious About Your Discomfort


Difficult topics can feel even more difficult to talk about with your kids when they cause you discomfort. It’s common to feel weird thinking about having the sex talk with your child, but why? Have you had your own uncomfortable or traumatic experiences with sex? Were you raised to view sex a certain way? If a family member died, are you worried about telling your child because you’re afraid you’ll fall apart? Or that they’ll fall apart? 


There is no rush in having difficult conversations so take the time to lean into your own feelings before having a conversation with your child so that you can show up from a more grounded place and have more capacity to support your kiddo.



Addressing Difficult Topics with Your Child Tip #2: Find Out What They Know


A conversation won’t be successful unless you know where the conversation needs to start and you’re both on the same page. You won’t be able to have a clear discussion about the death of a family member if your child doesn’t understand what death is. 



Addressing Difficult Topics with Your Child Tip #3: Don’t Worry About Being Perfect


You might feel like you’re just stumbling around when you talk to your child about difficult things and that’s okay. Your first try at explaining a complex topic might confuse your child even more at first and that’s okay. You’re not going to know how to respond to all of your child’s reactions and questions and that’s okay too. Now you have an excellent opportunity to show your child what it looks like to recognize and admit slip-ups, make corrections, and try again. Fumbling your way through a tough talk is better than not having the talk at all. 


PS: “I don’t know, let’s figure it out together,” is a perfectly acceptable response when your child has a question you don’t know the answer to.



Addressing Difficult Topics with Your Child Tip #4: Pick a Good Time and Place to Talk

Are you ready to have a difficult conversation with your child? Is your child ready to have a difficult conversation with you? If you’ve had a long, stressful day and your child has three tests tomorrow to study for, holding off on the actual conversation until another day might be for the best. It might be even better to give your child a teaser trailer of the discussion you want to have and give them a say in when/where/how it happens. 


Where you have talks with your child is important too. You know your child; do they prefer to sit face-to-face to have conversations? Would they rather have a tough talk on the drive home from school where your attention isn’t 100% on them and the talk is limited to the time it takes to get home? If you don’t know what feels better for them, ask! While the conversation isn’t going to be perfect, when and where you have the conversation can add an extra layer of comfort and safety for both you and your child. 



Addressing Difficult Topics with Your Child Tip #5: Provide Information with Age-Appropriate Words and Concepts 


A Kindergartener who hears about systemic racism or transgender rights will digest that information much differently than a teenager who does understand the concept of racism and gender identities. Keep your kiddo’s developmental age and maturity level in mind while you’re talking. With younger kids, your explanation doesn’t have to be more than a sentence or two and you can take more time to help them identify and communicate their emotions.



Addressing Difficult Topics with Your Child Tip #6: Tell the Truth


Kids have great BS detectors and lying to your children sends them the message that when scary or confusing things happen and they have questions, you are not the person they can go to. Between social media, peers, and the internet, kids will find the information they’re looking for but it’s not guaranteed the information will be accurate.



Addressing Difficult Topics with Your Child Tip #7: Share Your Feelings and Encourage Your Children to Share Theirs.

It’s important for children to know that their confusing, conflicted, and negative feelings about things are acceptable and valid. Modeling the appropriate identification and expression of feelings is just as important and who better for them to learn from than you! Feelings are a big factor in what makes difficult topics difficult. It’s easy to give your child exciting news, or talk with them about something that doesn’t involve strong negative feelings (like what they want from the grocery store, how their field trip was, or who they want to invite to their birthday party), but when sadness, fear, hurt, or disappointment are involved, it makes everything harder. You and your children are not robots, so don’t go into a hard conversation thinking that you or they should be emotionless. Anxiety is okay. Tears are okay. Fear is okay.



Addressing Difficult Topics with Your Child Tip #8: Encourage Your Child to Think About Solutions

Schools have fire drills and active shooter drills for a reason; knowing what to do in a situation increases a felt sense of safety. Ask your child what they would do in certain situations, give them a say, and help them take an active role in feeling safe or even in solving the problem. Share with your child what you will do to help them stay safe and how you will help them remember how to keep themselves safe.


Addressing Difficult Topics with Your Child Tip #9: Be Ready for an Ongoing Discussion


Tough conversations are not one-and-done types of conversations for a couple of reasons. You’re not going to be able to cover everything there is to know about sex the first time you talk to your child about it. Your child doesn’t need to know everything about sex the first time it comes up. Your child might also just need some time to process what they’ve learned before they have follow-up questions or feelings they want to talk about. Let your child know that you’ll make yourself available if they want to talk more or if any questions pop up.


Addressing Difficult Topics with Your Child Tip #10: Know When to Get Help


When there’s something difficult that you need to discuss with your child, it’s most likely something that’s scary, traumatic, heartbreaking, worrisome, or all the above. Pay attention to any changes in your child’s behavior, sleep, appetite, and school performance, and if you notice anything else is off, check in with them. If you have any concerns about your children, child therapists can help their brains understand things in different ways and work through all those big feelings.


Get Help for You and/or Your Child in Round Rock, TX or Austin, TX


Traumatic things are a part of life and are going to happen to everyone. If you or your child have had difficult experiences in the distant or recent past that have overstayed their welcome, our team of caring therapists would be honored to support you and your children and teens in learning the skills to help better cope with the issues at hand. You and your family deserve to feel hopeful and safe and we can’t wait to help you get there. To start therapy with Hope For the Journey, please follow these simple steps:

1. Contact Hope for the Journey

2. Meet with a caring therapist

3. Start receiving the support you and your teen deserve.

Other Services Offered At Hope For The Journey

Our team is happy to offer a number of services from our Round Rock and Austin therapy offices in person and virtually. Mental health services include therapy for anxiety and depressiondomestic violencesexual assaultPTSD, and EMDR. Our team also provides support for family members of all ages with counseling for teens and young adultschildren and tweenscouplesmen, and parents/partners. Contact us today to learn more about our team and community involvement!

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