Hard conversations

Have you been talking to your kids about the news lately? Or trying to? I’m not sure most of us even know how to feel or what to think right now. Many adults don’t seem to know how to talk about everything, much less in a way that is healthy and helpful for our children. The morning after the Uvalde shooting, I asked for extra morning cuddles, maybe like some of you with young children. I asked my granddaughter if they had talked about it in school. She said yes, she thought so, but she hadn’t really paid attention. She’s in between the stages of “It’s all about me” and “I don’t like to talk to Grammy about awkward stuff,” so I wasn’t sure if she really didn’t pay attention or didn’t want to talk about it. I’m near tears and she’s just wanting to know if she can get on her Kindle. Awkward… Fortunately, I trust her teachers and the administration to handle things well with the kids as far as feeling safe, addressing what they need to without being "scary," and holding space for questions. How do we talk to our kids about things we don’t even like to talk about? Scary things, like tragedies, death, big changes with lots of uncertainty? Painful things, like broken relationships or injustice? Avoiding the conversation doesn’t work well, as they hear things at school or other places. You don’t always know what they’re hearing, and if they have questions, they don’t know they can talk to you about them, which is a recipe for disaster later. Wrapping them in bubble wrap doesn’t work either – you just can’t. So how do you talk to your kids about tough stuff? First, when emotion is high, yours or theirs, it might not be the right time. We are less able to think constructively or creatively when upset, scared, or hurt. Take a bit of time to acknowledge the emotions using emotion words (“I’m crying because I’m sad about something I heard,” or “You look upset.”). You might consider the context of where and when to talk. Where are you and your child more relaxed and comfortable? For teens, it may be while driving somewhere. For kids, it may be their bedroom or while you are playing outside. If they are ready to talk, put your listening ears on first. Ask them what they’ve heard, what they are thinking and feeling. Try not to be dismissive of their worries, however unrealistic, or their questions. “I don’t know” can be a good answer sometimes, especially when followed up with “Let’s think and talk more about this” or “Let’s do some research about that.” Be open about what happened and your thoughts and feelings in age-appropriate ways. Kids learn more from watching how you handle things than what you say, so it’s more helpful to be honest. Don’t be too vague, which can leave even young children more confused. But don’t be graphic either. None of us really needs that kind of detail. Pay attention to their behavior after events or after your talk. You know how you react to crises – not sleeping well, loss of appetite or wanting comfort foods. Your kids may show similar signs, or have behavior changes such as more being more clingy or demanding. If you are having trouble having needed conversations, get support. For your child, teachers, school counselors, or other trusted adults in their lives may be very helpful for you and for them. If your child seems to be having trouble dealing with whatever the challenge is, reach out to your school counselor, pediatrician, or a therapist who works with children. If you are having a hard time sorting things out yourself, please reach out to your support network, or to your therapist, so you can be there for your kids. A few sessions of family therapy could be very helpful in not just talking through something but giving you the skills and resources to continue to have helpful and meaningful conversations with your children. We at Whole and Holy offer individual (child and adult) and family therapy. We would be happy to be part of your support network. You can reach us through our website here, through our Facebook page, or give us a call. (Photo by CDC on Unsplash)