Difficult Conversations with Kids

Lisa A. Flam
May 31, 2017

Learn how to create an environment where no topic is off limits - even if your kid's questions leave you speechless.



If you have kids, you know they ask questions. Lots of questions. And parents may find them difficult to tackle, especially if they're not prepared.

But difficult conversations are important to have because everything from death and divorce, sex and gay marriage can come up at any time, and it's good for kids to know they can have meaningful discussions in a comfortable environment at home about anything, says Robi Ludwig, Psy.D., Parenting Expert at Care.com.

"Always communicate with your children that any topic is OK to bring up," Ludwig says. "Even if the parent doesn't have the answer, the important thing is you are creating a situation where you can address the issues together."

When sitting down for a talk like this, Ludwig offers these tips:

  • Give every question a positive reaction. Present a non-judgmental environment and don't make a child feel bad for asking a question. "If you create an environment where you're not shaming a child for having a question... that's sending a message that it's OK to talk about a lot of different topics." Say things like "That's a really important conversation. Want to talk about it tonight at dinner?"; "You're so smart to ask that;" or, "I'm so glad you asked about that" - even if the idea of the discussion makes you queasy.
  • Acknowledge discomfort. "You can say, 'I know this is an awkward topic to talk about,' and then highlight why you're talking about it," Ludwig says.  
  • Find a good time. Set up a time or create an opportunity to talk when kids are really listening and not texting, playing video games or watching TV. It might be in the car, at the dinner table, or in the privacy of their bedroom.
  • Ask for more time. If you don't have a ready answer, be honest. Suggest you do a joint research project on the topic or, validate the question and say you need to think about the answer. Then set up a time to talk about the topic in a few days.  This should give you some time to do some research and discuss how you want to proceed with your spouse.
  • Listen to and support your child. Create an emotional climate where your kids know that you want to hear what they have to say. Support them for their questions and compliment them for bringing up difficult issues, Ludwig says. "You'll create comfort for the child, and once it's done... they learn that, oh my parent is a cool person to talk to."
  • Prepare your caregiver. If you have a nanny or a regular babysitter, instruct her on how you'd like her to answer your kids' difficult questions. It may be best to have her tell the kids that their parents will handle the tricky subjects, saying something like, "that's a really good question. I'll let your mom know you'd like to talk about it. You should talk with your mom and dad first - then we can discuss later." If you're a nanny and the parents haven't guided you on how to handle tough topics, set up a time to go over it, especially if the kids are in a prime question-asking age.

Read our articles on discussing divorce, death, a pet's death, or violence with your children.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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