Many of us studiously avoid discussing tough topics like sex, drugs, alcohol and grief with our kids. Or cringe when they actually come up.
But as Dr. Deborah Gilboa of Ask Dr. G told us during a live chat in The Motherhood today, “Our kids can learn about these things from us and their environment, or just from their environment. That is a great argument to talk even when you’d rather not.”
Struggling to figure out where to begin and how to approach any or all of these issues? You’re not alone. Here’s some great advice from the chat that might help!
Remember Why It’s Important
“I cannot say how important it is for your first child who comes of ‘age’ to have correct info b/c often they disseminate little bits and pieces to your younger ones,” Rachel Blaufeld of Back ‘n Groove Mom pointed out.
“In my experience, people’s opinions are often formed based on the first way they learned information,” Brandie added. “So I wanted to be the first to talk to my kids about these big topics because I didn’t want them to have negative opinions about these topics.”
Beforehand, make sure you have enough information to approach at least a few basic questions your kids are likely to ask.
“I have found that when I ask my [online] community what they would do I get a lot of feedback that is helpful,” said Jessica Torres of My Time As Mom.
Brett Martin of This Mama Loves Her Bargains turns to “my family, friends and Google. Pediatrician too. And I am 10000% ok with telling my children, ‘I am not sure the best way to answer that, so let me find out some more information and I will answer you as soon as I can.'”
Remember to be patient and keep your cool, no matter what you might hear about your kids’ friends. “Telling your kids that someone else is making bad decisions (especially a friend of theirs) can drive a big wedge. Leading them through some ‘what ifs’ can work to better effect,” said Dr. G.
You finally muster the nerve to bring up a cringe-worthy topic. How to keep your kid from fleeing in embarrassment?
Rachel of Back ‘n Groove Mom advised, “I find that a distraction always helps – chatting while throwing a ball or doing a chore together – something to take the pressure off.”
Brandie added, “I just say straight up, ‘look, I know this embarrassing. Truthfully it’s a bit embarrassing for me too! But it’s important and so we need to talk about it. And if you need to giggle a few times to get rid of the tension, go for it!'”
Talking About Sex
It’s the topic most of the group agreed they dread most. Reasons cited for flinching away from The Sex Talk included privacy concerns to embarrassment to the uncomfortable realization that our kids aren’t so little anymore.
Preparation can help. “Especially for the topics when we have specific values that we want to pass along, choosing a few words that we hope will come to mind for our children on these topics can really help,” said Dr. G. “Like for Sex I want my kids to think ‘Caution, commitment, communication.'”
She added, “As the mom of boys (and a doctor to MANY) I talk to them about giving up that DNA and being responsible for it and connected to the mom for 18 more years. To girls I ask concrete questions about their reasons for having sex.”
And it’s not just about pregnancy – the group agreed that around age 12 or 13, we should talk STDs with kids, too. “I think the thing that is so important about the sex talk is to remember that as kids get older to include info on STDs,” pointed out Rachel of Back ‘n Groove Mom. “Sex can be as deadly or damaging as drugs.”
Talking About Drugs and Alcohol
When it comes to drugs, alcohol and partying, keep your own past out of it. Your kids don’t need to know absolutely everything.
“It sends a mixed message when you say, ‘I did it, but you shouldn’t.’ Sometimes a little white lie is ok,” said Stefanie Mullen of Ooph.com. “I don’t really want to say to my kids, ‘I drank in high school and I even drove. I survived, but you may not.’ I instead say, ‘this is what can happen if you do it. I had a friend who did this and she went to jail.’ There is something in telling them that I did it that I fear gives them a pass to do it themselves.”
Talking About Grief and Death
“Most families address [death] when it enters their lives,” said Dr. G. “If you are worried that your kids are getting old enough that you should begin to discuss it, you can use the death of a well-known person or someone in a bible story or a family member that died some time ago.”
For kids who have experienced death and grief first-hand, “I spend a lot of time talking to my kids about the sadness for the people who are left here, and how it’s ok to miss them and it’s absolutely ok to be sad,” said Brett of This Mama Loves Her Bargains.
“There are many kinds of grief–including death. The thing is, most people will have to deal with some type of grief that is totally unexpected,” Deborah pointed out. “Having smaller chats about grief and death is so helpful. We always took our even small children to funeral homes and hospitals.”
Robin suggested a resource from Mister Rogers that might help, called “Talking With Young Children About Death.”
Breathe deep and dive in! Now it’s time to prepare yourself and open the lines of communication with your kids.
Dr. G offers a free downloadable tool for helping parents prepare for tough conversations.
Brett Martin, This Mama Loves Her Bargains
Jessica Torres, My Time As Mom
Melissa Brodsky, Smart Savvy Social
Mysti Reutlinger, author, writer, mom
Rachel Blaufeld, Back ‘n Groove Mom
Stephanie Mullen, Ooph.com