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Talking about hot topics such as death, disasters, drugs or sex make most parents start to twitch. Parents tend to shy away from them because they don’t want their child ruminating on negative thoughts. But we all know, life can be hard and there will be times in your child’s life where they either experience some of these things first hand or hear about them via friends or social media.

So how do you prepare your child for topics like these?

1. Prepare Early

Don’t wait until you have to face one of these conversations to start thinking about how you would go about it. Laying the groundwork for difficult conversations starts when children are very young.

It is never too early to start listening to your child. Set aside a part of your day, every day, to just spend time with them in an unhurried, comfortable way. Listen to what they are saying, ask questions to get the entire picture. It doesn’t matter if your child is talking about Paw Patrol, school, or what they want to be when they grow up.

It might seem insignificant to you, but as a parent you are laying the foundation for being a reliable sounding board. If the groundwork is laid carefully, difficult conversations with your child should be easier to navigate.

If you regularly tune in to your child, then you will hear the questions that pop up.

“Where do babies come from?” “My friend was calling a girl in my class this name. What does it mean?” “What is happening in Ukraine?
I saw something on the news that made me scared.”

Listen for the question and as you answer, stay child appropriate. Sometimes adults like to talk about way too much information. Children don’t work that way. If they ask where babies come from and they are in Year 1, a simple “From Mum’s tummy” will usually suffice.

They are not asking for a biology lesson.

2. Be Approachable

Your child will pick up the vibe that you are an interested party who wants to hear about all aspects of their life. This shouldn’t be forced. Honest sharing takes time. Your child will go through stages of talking about everything to talking about very little. That is normal, just make sure to have some part of your day that is open to them. Let them know that you love them no matter what. This is called unconditional love and I can hear you right now saying, “My child knows I love them”. Yes, but it is amazing how little minds can twist when they are being disciplined and emotions spill over. Words are powerful and not easily forgotten.

3. Watch Your Words

Be careful of the language you use when you are angry or frustrated. Remind children that you didn’t like their behaviour, and their consequence is a result of their poor behaviour, but you still love them – no matter what. Children need to hear this regularly because as they grow, they become more aware of familial expectations. They feel pressure to conform, but will push buttons and try to bend some rules. That is healthy and completely normal. Treat the behaviour as it comes, but love the child always.

4. Create Family Values

Having family values and discussing them regularly with your child is also an important foundational step towards having difficult conversations. Talk about good things and bad things, right and wrong, fair and unfair. What is respect? How do I show it? Identify what makes them so and give examples that your child can relate to. A strong moral compass will ensure that your child
understands these concepts before those difficult conversations arise. A note of caution here – make sure what you say matches what you do. Model the values. Let children see that you believe them and those morals regulate your interactions with others. Watch your conversations at home. Children are very perceptive. They pick up the slightest variations between your actions and speech. Children are wired to learn through observation. Of course, parents aren’t perfect so when you do slip up, let that be an honest conversation to have. “I shouldn’t have said that. It wasn’t fair of me. I should have been a better friend.” Let your child see or hear an apology.

5. Show Empathy

Don’t be afraid to show emotion. Don’t downplay your feelings. It is okay to be sad and to cry (even if you’re a man). It is okay to be angry and want to yell. It is okay to be frustrated and upset. Talk through these emotions with your child. Emotions are real. Let them out.

6. Stick to the Facts

Always state facts. Facts are easier to build on. A typical child will think about your response and come back later with more questions when they are ready. “But if they are in Mum’s tummy, how do they get out?” Then answer that question, and always use the proper terms for all body parts.

7. Instigate Conversations

Sometimes difficult conversations need to be approached, rather than waited for. In that instance, it is usually easier to delve deep when you are doing something together, not staring each other
down. That is uncomfortable and lends a formality and awkwardness to the situation that you want to avoid. Going for a walk, baking, playing a puzzle or a game are great situations for honest conversations. Driving in a car is one of the best places to have deep conversations. It is quiet, no one is going anywhere and the participants are side by side not face to face.

8. Be Honest

When having difficult conversations, honesty works best. Some parents feel that they have to have all the answers. This is not the case – it is okay to say, “I don’t
know”. Feel free to quantify the situation with your own thoughts, but it is also important to ask your child what they think. Sometimes wisdom can be found by seeing things through a child’s eyes.

Here are 7 Difficult Conversations to Tackle

1. Death

2. Drugs

3. Sex

4. Vaping

5. Consent

6. Racism

7. Religion

The Strong4Life website is a great resource in general when talking with your child about various situations. There are many resources here to take advantage of.


  • Christina Jacobson

    Christina Jacobsen serves in a dual capacity as the Director of Primary and a Year 1 teacher at Peace Lutheran College. She has taught interstate and internationally in independent schools in the US, the International Education Agency in PNG and now for Lutheran Schools in Australia. She has held various teaching positions in addition to a Curriculum Leader. Her training in Christian Studies, cross-cultural education and curriculum development has helped define and support the education of the whole child at Peace Lutheran College.