So, your kids are growing up – fast. Ideally, you have been talking to them for years about social media, their bodies, puberty, and all kinds of sensitive, potentially embarrassing topics. If you’ve generally opted to skip it, it’s not too late… but you should start now. If the idea of having “the talk” with your ‘tween is making you cringe, here’s something to keep in mind: it’s actually not just one talk. It’s a series of talks that come about as you build trust and open lines of communication so that, over time, you can talk about anything and everything they need to know that you personally may have had to learn the hard way.
Here are 7 ways you can prepare to open this ongoing dialogue with your child without them running for the door:
- Start Young: The ideal time to start talking to your child is when they are very young. Answer any questions honestly in an age-appropriate way, normalizing conversation around potentially embarrassing topics like body parts and functions. For instance, if they ask what the pads or tampons are in your bathroom, you can explain that girls and women get periods as their bodies practice getting ready to have a baby, and the pads/tampons are used every month they’re not pregnant. Simple, right?
- Spend Quality Time Together: Spend time engaging with kids in activities they enjoy. The time spent together can create casual opportunities to chat about issues or questions as they arise without a formal “talk." For example, if they video games, play together and talk while you play or join them to watch a show they enjoy. You might ask them about female characters in the game/show and how their portrayal is similar or different to girls and women in real life, and whether a boy or man might find himself in a similar situation.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Real world stories or issues that have arisen in your community or at school can be a great launching point to discuss sensitive subjects. Ask your child questions like, “Was that appropriate? Why or why not? What could have been done differently?”
- Share Your Own Experiences: Weave stories about yourself and situations you faced, both good and bad into your daily life, along with your reflections about skills learned and what you would have done differently. This can help your child indirectly by improving social skills and reducing anxiety around common, relatable situations they are likely to find themselves in without sounding preachy.
- Actually Listen: Above all, listen. Listen to what they are saying and try to see when there are questions between the lines. Without interrogating them, you can ask clarifying questions so you understand what they really want to talk about.
- Practice Your Poker Face: When you talk about topics that your kids (and you!) may find embarrassing, it’s important to try to be matter-of-fact about them. If your kids can see you would rather be anywhere but there, they will take your cue and be embarrassed or, worse, they may not ask you again. Wouldn’t you rather they ask you than try to find the answers online or from unreliable sources? Look them in the eye and just do your best! Always leave the door open for future discussions. If they told you something uncomfortable or private, you can say, “Thank you so much for sharing how you are feeling." If they asked you an uncomfortable question, you can say, “I’m so glad you asked me about this. It can be a difficult thing to understand and you can come to me about this or anything else that’s on your mind. I love you and I won’t judge you or get mad.”
- Educate Yourself: The world has changed since you were your child’s age. Sexting. Social media. And yes, even porn (especially its availability). Talk to other parents and find resources to learn what is going on in your community. Talk to your child about what’s going on in their lives. What do they need to know? What do you need to know before you can help them?