Parenting was never meant to be a walk in the park, but in this increasingly complex world our kids face wide-ranging challenges. That’s why parents need to be there for the tough questions, writes Jen Vuk.
With great power comes great responsibility—so said Uncle Ben to his young charge Peter ‘Spiderman’ Parker—and arguably there’s no greater power than having the future of our children in our hands (isn’t that right, Uncle Ben?).
While social media has helped generate a 24-hour news cycle, parents now more than ever have to be on their guard. It seems wrong and/or bad (let alone too much) information is at our children’s fingertips, and we want them to be armed with the tools to make the right choices.
But there are ways to help mitigate this onslaught. Here are our top five tips for parents to initiate the conversation.
Of course, this doesn’t mean forcing the bad news onto your child, but rather speaking to them at their level. For example, talk to them about what’s happening among their peers, say, at childcare where perhaps a child is undergoing cancer treatment or a carer has left to help out an elderly parent.
Look at these experiences as opportunities to help broaden your child’s world view, but not overwhelm or unduly challenge it.
Be open and honest
Granted, raising a family is a busy time and you’re not always able to listen as intently to your child as you would both like. Don’t be afraid to tell them so, but also be aware of when your child really needs to talk to you about something.
It could be as vague as ‘Today Thuy called me a bully. Do you think I’m a bully?’ Leading questions such as this can open up new channels, as well as give you more perspective into your child’s life.
Talking openly is an opportunity to correct misconceptions and decrease the anxiety that comes with uncertainty.
Don’t let your own feelings dominate
If your child comes to you with a question about the birds and bees, for goodness sake don’t um and ah (or, worse, tell your child to see the other parent). It’s natural that your child will be curious about how their body works (or how a baby gets in there), but it’s also imperative that the internet isn’t their first port of call.
Keep it simple
When talking to kids about tough issues it’s a good idea to silence the white noise. For example, when discussing something as complicated as mental illness, begin with balancing your starting point with an understanding of your child’s developmental stage.
For instance, a younger child’s ideas about being ‘sick’ is based on their own experiences of illness, so it’s a good idea to try being more concrete. Explain that people with a mental illness want to get better but aren’t always able to find the right treatment.
Having a child know that the person—especially if it’s one of their parents—wants to feel better is a good way to instil hope and build strength.
Be patient and persistent
It can take time for kids to be confident enough to ask the tough questions or find the right language. As parents, it’s our role to be patient and guide them to a safe place from which they can gain greater understanding of the world around them.