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Home » Positive Ways to Talk and Listen »

Talking About Tough Topics


Girl: What's a nuclear bomb? Mom: What have you heard?

Start By Finding Out What Children Know

"Before you answer your child's question, ask an open-ended one to find out what she knows. Based on her answer, you might ask another question or clear up confusion. A question like 'What is a nuclear bomb?' might mean the child needs reassurance about her own safety. She could really be asking, 'Am I safe?'"

Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed.D.

Co-Author, Before Push Comes to Shove

Find out what your child knows already. If your child asks you a difficult question (about sex, death, politics, etc.), you might simply ask, "What have you heard?" This allows your child to tell you what she understands — or misunderstands — and perhaps what concerns are prompting her question.

Keep your answers simple. Give answers that are appropriate for your child's age. One simple sentence may be enough. Underneath a child's question, she may be worried about her safety, so offer reassurance. You might describe the different ways she is safe and say, "The policeman is there to protect us," or, "The flight attendant is showing us how to stay safe on the airplane."

Ask more questions. For example, if your child asks you about people being injured on the news, you might say, "I feel sad those people got hurt. How do you feel?"

Talk again. Be prepared for children to ask the same question many times. This means they are continuing to think about the issue and may need more information. You might save some information for later discussions.

NEXT: Don't Discuss Everything

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