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How to Talk to Children About Difficult Subjects

by Gordon Hattersley on March 17, 2023

“I’d love to talk to my kids about difficult things,” a mother recently told me, “but I never know where to begin.”


That mother is not alone. Many parents feel the same way. While they feel they should be offering information and advice about the difficult subjects swirling around their children—subjects that, in the past, were seldom a part of a child’s universe–parents are at a loss.


Last week, a school principal lamented to me, “It used to be that the main controversy we had to deal with was when and how to teach kids about the ‘birds and the bees.’ Now its sexual identity, guns, climate change, cyberbullying, CRT and so much more.”


In the not-too-distant-past, if kids didn’t bring it up, it meant they didn’t know or care about it. But long gone are the days in which parents could default to the old adages: “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” or “better to let sleeping dogs lie.”


Given the inescapable onslaught of media bombardment and the loud discourse that it generates, parents who stick their heads in the sand do so their own peril as well as the peril of their children. So, what is a parent to do?


Here is my best and simplest advice regarding HOW TO TALK TO CHILDREN ABOUT DIFFICULT SUBJECTS:


  • STEP ONE – Identify the specific difficult subject your child might be exposed to and determine whether or not the subject might impact your child in any way.


  • STEP TWO – Research the difficult subject. Identify the words or terms associated with the difficult subject and find out their meanings.


  • STEP THREE – Be on the lookout for any sign that your child might have been exposed to, or has an interest in, the difficult subject.


  • STEP FOUR – Respond to any sign that your child might have been exposed to, or has an interest in, the difficult subject. Ask sincerely and without judgment, “What do you know about (the difficult subject)? What do you think about it?”


  • STEP FIVE – Offer to talk with your child about the difficult subject or refer your child to a trusted advisor to have a conversation about it. Also make available to your child any valid research you have garnered about the difficult subject.


  • STEP SIX – Encourage your child to reach out to you if and when your child wishes to discuss the difficult subject further. Assure your child that any conversation will happen without judgment or punitive consequences.


Remember that, according to The Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have the right to think their own thoughts and believe their own beliefs. This mean that your child’s thoughts about a difficult subject need to be respected.


In the event your child’s thoughts about a difficult subject do not align with yours, make certain your beliefs about the subject are based on solid information and facts and are not merely beliefs that have been blindly handed down from generation to generation. Once you are certain that a belief has a solid foundation, live it to the best of your ability. If you do this, the odds are in your favor that your child will follow your lead.


In the future, I will be addressing all of the difficult subjects that today’s children are encountering. So, until the next blog,


Take care!



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