• Sue Doo

How to talk about the difficult stuff with our children and young people

Image by Jordy Meow from Unsplash

I am always amazed with our youngest, who is nearly 18. Over the years she has surprised me with her knowledge and understanding of world news and social situations. It’s something I am not very good at and at times I have done the wrong thing, because I wasn’t knowledgeable enough and I got scared.

With the recent pandemic and now the conflict in Ukraine the need for open and honest communication in family units is essential. I’ve learnt that I don’t need to have all the answers and it’s really empowering for my kids to be the ones teaching me about situations from their perspective.

Having the opportunity for difficult conversations is essential so that as our children grow and become the young adults of the future they are knowledgeable, can show empathy and have considered conversations.

How to approach a conversation:

1. Make sure that you communicate in the right way, for your child.

Consider their age, how worldly wise they are or their focus on certain information. Just because they are 14 doesn’t mean they can take on the same as every other 14-year-old.

2. Open-ended questions

like ‘What have you heard about the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine?’

3. Listen – just listen,

give gestures, nods, or affirmations so they know you are really listening.

4. Give them time to express themselves,

don’t jump into correct them – that can come in time.

5. Acknowledge how they are feeling by reflecting it back

“I can hear that you’re really worried about that”

6. Share your thoughts and feelings in an appropriate manner

“I am feeling very upset too”

7. Follow with how you are coping

“So, I am only watching the news headlines” or “I’ve been looking at how we can help”

8. Let them know they can ask you anything, at anytime

And if you don’t know the answer you’ll work it out together.

What age can I talk to them?

It’s considered that for any child up to the age of around 5 or so they won’t have any direct knowledge of this situation or the necessary ability to process it. Unless they ask a direct question then don’t delve into it as it will not benefit them in any way. Also be sure to sensor your news consumption and conversations about the conflict around them, along with any information relating to it. In this way then your young ones are not inadvertently exposed to something they just can’t begin to process.

What’s our role?

As parents our role is to support, love, nurture, and care for our children. Encouraging them to be good all-round citizens of the world.

With the constant stream of up-to-date news on our televisions, phones and tablets we can ourselves very quickly become saturated by the information, emotions, and a sense of helplessness.

Making sure that we are taking care of ourselves and that we’re not overloading on information, it won’t help anyone, least of all our children.

What’s our goal?

We want to have open and honest conversations with our young ones because anxiety and overwhelm come from a place of uncertainty and not knowing what to do. So, we want to be that conduit that allows our young people to express themselves so they can unpack their thoughts and feelings and stay calm.

Good communication and conversations help our children to:

· Feel valued

· Feel part of something, united

· Learn where they may have misunderstanding

· Know that they can ask anything without shame or fear

How to foster good communication in your family?

· Always choose a quiet space

· Have plenty of time

· Being able to empathise “I understand that you’re upset about that”

· Listening, listening, and listening some more – Listening to hear not to reply.

· Let the kids talk about what they know and feel, don’t jump in to correct them straight away it can be a point to come back to

· Acknowledge their feelings and give validation “I understand that you’re worried”

· Let them know how you feel – in an appropriate manner! Reflect back the words they use and then give them a sense of how you are coping with that worry. “I am looking into how we can support the refugees.”

· You can initiate the conversation

· Be prepared with some knowledge but also don’t be scared, if you don’t know searching it together is a great bonding opportunity for you and your children.

· Be child and age appropriate – you know your kids the best.

· Aim to be truthful without being overly graphic

What to ask or say to start the conversation?

Have you heard anything about the conflict between Ukraine and Russia?

It’s ok to not know

Often as adults we don’t always have the skills that we need as parents. There’s no guidebook or manual that comes along with each child and we don’t always have the parenting patterns from our own parents.

A lot of the situations that we are dealing with nowadays are different because of the surge in media and the way that we all live our lives.

It’s ok not to know or to be unsure. What is essential is that you learn for yourself and then you can support your children so much better. Think about what you would have liked if you were their age now? I imagine you’d want to be listened to have elements explained, feel a greater sense of togetherness and unity. When we feel like this we can teach our children a wonderful lesson. They can learn that we don’t always have all the answers, but we can talk together and learn together.

Strategies to help you all cope so much better

Having that open dialogue and deeper understanding of each other helps to teach children that their parents are available to them. You can expand on the things you can do to help your children and you understand the situation better by:

· Looking at where Ukraine and Russia are on a map

· Learn some facts about the countries

· Research together – you may be surprised with the questions they ask as you go along.

· Ensure that you leave the conversation open so your young people know they can come back to it when they need to

· Research ways you can all get involved and help through donations

Finally thoughts

When we remember that feelings of anxiety occur because we feel a lack of control over a situation we can begin to help our children and ourselves.

We do this by providing them with age appropriate, open communication within a safe environment that is rich in genuine facts, empathy, and shared experiences.

If you are struggling and want to talk it through with someone then send me an email and we can arrange a time for a call.

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