We’ve all had our own experience with “The Talk”, whether as a child on the receiving end of it, or a parent trying to navigate a tricky conversation. Some of us may have had a positive experience, but most of us have memories of some of these ‘talks’ being terribly awkward.
Why it’s important
The reality is that it’s critical as parents that we talk to our children about puberty, periods, nocturnal emissions, sex and relationships and everything in between. The reasoning behind this is twofold. Firstly, it’s important for children to be given the necessary information so that they can be empowered, informed individuals. Secondly, these talks give parents an opportunity to engage with their children, helping them to connect and understand what’s going on in their child’s life. The parental relationship should be focused on providing your child with stability, safety and comfort to be able to talk and ask questions about all sorts of things.
The weight of this responsibility becomes clearer when we consider the fact that if you don’t give your child the answers and information they need, they’ll likely get it from a misguided, or misinformed, source. Are you willing to take this risk?
It’s never going to be one conversation
Often parents think they need to work themselves up to one big talk, but a once-off conversation isn’t going to provide your child with what they need – we need to revise our thinking and make these ongoing, meaningful conversations about life. It’s not always the words themselves that you need to prioritise, rather ask yourself, ‘How do I create an atmosphere of open conversation that provides my children with the safety they need, that will encourage them to engage on various topics, irrespective of their age?’
12 things to consider when tackling awkward conversations with your children:
As you reflect and prepare yourself and your family for these open and ongoing conversations, here are some points to bear in mind.
- Ongoing conversations are far more effective and helpful to your child than one-off talks covering a large range of topics, allowing bite-size information and processing.
- Personal views and biases need to be considered so that we cautiously provide our children with the information they need, without imposing our own views and opinions, to help them make their own decisions in life.
- Your child is an individual, and as such, they will develop at their own pace. Be careful that you don’t force a conversation just because you feel it is time, or because you discussed it with their sibling at the same age.
- You don’t have to have all the answers! It’s okay if you don’t know everything. This can actually help demonstrate to your child that you’re only human, and gives the two of you a chance to answer the questions and explore the topics further together.
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- Be honest with your child. If the topic is awkward for you, tell your child, and help them to understand why it is uncomfortable for you. This can help your child learn that your discomfort or awkwardness doesn’t need to become theirs. Being honest also demonstrates your vulnerability, which can build trust and a willingness to share.
- Be in control of the conversations. This means that if you get caught off guard, you don’t need to talk then and there. You can acknowledge the topic or questions and say something like: “That’s a great question and I am so glad you asked. Can we talk about this tonight so I can think about it a little first?”
- You are not perfect, and your conversations may not be perfect either. That’s okay. You can always revisit a conversation or add to it at a later stage.
- Speak age-appropriately to your child. Keep things nice and simple for your younger children and let them guide you in terms of their questions. There is no need to dump more than is necessary on your child. Listen to what they say, and how they respond. This will guide how you direct the conversation or the amount of information you share.
- Empower yourself by researching topics beforehand and asking your own questions where necessary – never go in unprepared. Note: Check out Dr T: A Guide to Sexual Health & Pleasure by Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng to help prepare you for some of these awkward situations with your kids!
- Acknowledge your child’s curiosity and individuality. Be cautious not to dismiss your child’s questions (overt or not) about any of the topics you discuss. Acknowledge them and let them know that you’re open to talking about anything with them, even if it’s uncomfortable for you.
- Encourage critical thinking by not just providing answers or facts to your children (this is, of course, age dependent). Encourage them to think for themselves and provide their own comments, views and opinions that can be further discussed.
- Values need to remain the golden threads that guide your conversations. The various topics should be linked back to the values system that underpins the family. This will encourage your child to consider the ‘big picture’ and will help them when they’re presented with situations where they have to make their own decisions or state their opinions on various issues.