We have all had our own experience of “The Talk” to some degree. Some may have had a positive experience of this, while the bulk of us have all had some cringe-worthy “talks” from our parents about some of the topics of life and growing up that they have made awkward.
The reality is that is it critical as parents that we talk to our children about all sorts of topics, including puberty, periods, nocturnal emissions, sex and relationships and everything in between. The reasoning behind this is twofold.
Firstly, it is important for children to be given the necessary information in order to make sense of what stage of their development they are in so that they can navigate their way through life as empowered informed individuals.
Secondly, these talks provide the necessary opportunities for parents to engage with their children in order to connect and relate to what’s going on for them in their lives, while building and strengthening your relationship. This 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 do not provide your child with the answers and information that they need, they will get it from somewhere else either misinformed or misguided. Are you willing to take this risk?
The stereotype of “The Talk” that has been passed down over the generations has continued the flawed thinking that we need to work ourselves up to one big talk about an awkward topic, and then we can move on from it. The reality is that a once-off talk is not going to provide your child with what they need. We need to revise our thinking about talking to our children to be more of an ongoing, meaningful conversation about life.
The ongoing conversation
When we consider the topics that we need to talk to our children about, we soon realise that there are so many “talks” that we need to have with them. These topics include; our bodies, strangers, friendships, winning/losing, rules/consequences, differences (race, gender, religion etc.), puberty, love, death, sex, drugs, and the list goes on.
We cannot lump any of these topics into a single or even a few “talks”, as there is so much more to discuss beyond the facts of each topic. Each of these topics is going to present themselves in our everyday lives and as such, we need to be prepared for this, as well as look for natural opportunities to open discussions about various issues when they present themselves.
“… the question is not what do I discuss, but rather how do I create an atmosphere of open conversation that provides the safety my children need, that will encourage them to engage on various topics, irrespective of their age?”
So, the question is not what do I discuss, but rather how do I create an atmosphere of open conversation that provides the safety my children need, that will encourage them to engage on various topics, irrespective of their age? Ideally, this would have begun before your children were even born, where you and your partner engage and talk about all the issues of life. If this isn’t, or was not the case, do not fear and there is always hope.
With this in mind, we begin to think about the first considerations for these ongoing conversations – ourselves and our partners. We need to be aware of how we think or feel about all the issues that we are going to need to talk to our children about. This is a critical consideration as our views, biases, judgements and assumptions can be easily presented and often passed on if not checked.
How did you learn about the various topics, and do you want your children to experience things the same way? If you or your partner feel uncomfortable about a topic, do you want your children to feel the same way? Reflecting on our own views and feelings, and our experiences can often provide us with valuable information that we can use, or grow from as we prepare ourselves to engage openly.
Importantly, we need to consider the fact that talking to our children about these difficult topics should not be the responsibility of only one parent. Parenting is a team effort and both parents should be on the same page, or at least as far as possible. Any disagreements between parents can create confusion or uncomfortable situations for children, which can often lead them to disengage or seek information elsewhere.
If you are in a situation where you are parenting alone, the ‘rules’ remain the same, as you continue to create the space to engage and talk. This can become a little tricky when you try to talk to children of the opposite sex to you about some gender-specific topics such as periods or nocturnal emissions.
In these situations, talk and engage to the extent that you can. Accept that you may not be able to provide all the information that is needed, and where necessary, call on the assistance of a friend or family member of the opposite sex who can help relate more to your child.
12 things to consider when talking to 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, 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, not 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 do not force a conversation 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 is okay if you don’t know everything about everything. This helps demonstrate to your child that you are only human, and can allow for positive engagements to answer the questions and explore the topics further together.
- Be honest with your child. If the topic is awkward for you, tell your child, and help them to understand why it is for you. This can help your child to learn that your discomfort or awkwardness doesn’t need to become theirs. Being honest also demonstrates your vulnerability, which can help build trust and 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 your children 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 and asking your own questions where necessary. You are not expected to know everything, but not knowing is not a valid excuse with the amount of information we have access to. 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 various topics. Acknowledge them and let them know that you are open to talking about anything with them, even if it is uncomfortable for you.
- Encourage critical thinking by not just providing answers or facts to your children (age dependant). 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 help your child to be able to consider the ‘big picture’ and will assist them when they are presented with situations where they have to make their own decisions or comments related to various issues.