4 Guides for Talking to Your Kids About Tough Topics

A teacher talking to a group of students with their hands raised.

A revised Possip Team favorite, 4 Guides for Talking to Your Kids About Tough Topics.

We see in parent feedback that many have mixed feelings about the role schools and educators should play in talking about difficult events that are happening, or have happened, in the world. Some parents want teachers and schools to talk about injustices, current events, and elections– others do not. 

Whether conversations are happening in their child’s school or not, many parents may struggle to find a good starting place for conversations with their child on tough topics, like injustices, current events, and life. In this blog, we outline five tips for talking to your children about hard topics: 

  • Find a Prompt for the Discussion
  • Share Your Key Points or Perspective
  • Focus on Systems Not Individuals
  • Determine What’s Next

Find a Prompt for the Discussion

This is a time that is bursting with prompts.  Your prompt should be informed by:

  • Your child’s age
  • Their disposition and emotional state
  • Your personal identity and what matters to you

Here are a few of the prompts I recommend:

  • Books
  • Articles
  • Songs
  • Radio
  • Podcast
  • Personal Story

For example, if you have a young child you may want to read a book about a historical figure. If you have an older child you may want to read an article together about current events and conversations about the issue.  Or you may just want to tell a personal story about either your experience or your friend’s experience.

If you are looking for prompts, Google is your friend.  

Google prompt (e.g. books, articles) + child’s age + the issue you are trying to talk about. For example, google books for 7-year-olds discussing race. It won’t be a perfect science, but you’ll be connected to a wealth of resources. When searching, check for the source’s credibility.

Share Your Key Points or Perspective

As writing teachers know, point of view matters.  What is your point of view?

  • Historical? 
  • Logistical?
  • Personal?
  • Emotional?

Knowing what perspective or key points you make will inform what you use as a prompt and what questions you ask.  

No matter which direction you come at the conversation, you can cross through multiple areas.  For example, if you want to start talking to your kids about tough topics, like racism, from a historical perspective, you might choose to read a book on Ruby Bridges going to school on the first day. Teachers of reading often ask children to make connections to the text:

  • Text-to-self (how can I apply Ruby Bridges’ experience to my experience)
  • Text-to-text (what does Ruby Bridges’ experience make you think about when you also read  about Jackie Robinson’s experience as a rookie in the Major Leagues?)
  • Text-to-world (how does Ruby Bridges’ experience make you think of what we read about how kids go to school in different parts of the world?)

Have a sense of where you’re headed and what you want to walk away from the conversation with. Of course you aren’t going to just have one conversation, but the more successful you feel it is, the more likely you’ll keep the door open for future conversation.

Focus on Systems, Not Individuals

As you talk about difficult things, it may be tempting to talk about individuals. Kids love to make meaning of the world through simpler terms – good guys and bad guys, mean people and nice people. The reality is, these events are often more complex than that. It’s important that your kid has the freedom to know and talk about this. While there may be characters in books that are easy to dislike, as humans we all have potential to treat people unjustly. We need to be guard on that, and our kids need to be as well.

Next Steps and Reminders

Finally, know what your next steps are. What are other books you want to read, the conversations you want to have, and questions you want to explore? Conversations are fluid and ongoing.  My kids ask me questions that lead me to reflect and learn in new ways. Remember a few things:

  • Not every question needs to be answered!  You can say, great question!  What do you think?  Or, great question!  Let’s look into that together!
  • Not every statement needs a response. Talking to your kids about tough topics, current events, and tough topics can be daunting. Sometimes your kid may say something and you don’t know what you want to say. You can say, “that’s making me feel something but I’m not quite sure what yet.” 
  • You can let your kid lead the pace. One of my friends who is a counselor once gave me this advice when our kids were asking questions about how the body worked. She said they’ll tell you when you’ve given them more info than they want or need.
  • Make sure the conversation is a start, not an end.
  • Bring the conversation up again and again and again.

For any topic that includes a combination of facts and feelings, we encourage you to teach facts and facilitate opinions and feelings. Share facts with your child, but then from there facilitate their opinions and feelings.