It's never easy having to sit your child down to have a difficult conversation with them. As moms, we can often feel unprepared and inexperienced to tackle this.
Thankfully there are ways we can approach our children when we need to discuss matters which are hard, frustrating, are which make us blush. Here are 10 ways to have a difficult conversation with your child:
10 Acknowledge their feelings
A person who feels their feelings have been disregarded or ignored, won't easily respond to any corrective action or new information. Whether or not you agree with your child's response to what you are saying, validate their feelings because these feelings are real to them, even if not to you.
You might say things like, "I understand you are upset." Or, "I see you are feeling scared/confused/sad." Just your act of acknowledging their feelings will provide the environment they need to open up in.
9 Admit it when you don't know something
Sometimes parents want to appear wise and strong, when in fact they don't have the answer either. For this one, wisdom is needed as there are times when we need to tell our child that we don't know either, in response to a tragic situation, for example.
In such an instance, we can assure them that while we don't know the reason why, the situation is in control and there is safety and support, despite the apparent chaos.
Other times, we need to answer to the best of our ability, employing the advice, if needed, on an expert in the circumstances, or someone who has been through a similar ordeal.
8 Speak to them on their level
This will mean using ideas and vocabulary which they are familiar with to drive a point home.
A child's world is different to an adult's world. A 'frame of reference' is a window through which a person perceives something that happens and the world at large, and when talking to your child, you need to talk to them using their unique frame of reference. This will mean making reference points to things they know and understand.
7 Use 'relationships' which they can relate to
Your child, even though having less experience in life than you do, has had varied experiences.
If you need to speak to them, for example, on how someone defrauded you of money, which is why they can't have a party, then you might explain to them beginning: "Remember how someone you trusted once stole from your lunch box?"
Use relationships and examples from their own life or even from their favorite shows to reinforce your point and facilitate understanding.
6 Embrace them with gentle words
The way you speak to a child should always include kindness and words of affirmation, especially when difficult topics are raised.
In an instance in which you have to communicate something difficult with a child, season the conversation with gentle, reassuring words, such as, "Don't worry, you are safe. Mommy is here with you." Or, "I know it is upsetting but you aren't going through it alone and you will get through it. I am here for you."
5 Use gestures with words
When you communicate with a child, especially speaking with them about things which may frighten or upset them, be sure to use gestures along with your words.
This will mean holding your child in a warm embrace or reassuring him or her, through your hugs, that you are there for them and are only a hug away. Hugs and tender gestures also calm a child by showing them they are in safe arms and can be at ease.
4 Let them know someone is still boss
Communicate with your child that there is a boss in the situation. Whether your difficult conversation centers around their behavior, or someone else's or an event or tragedy, knowing that there is someone in charge will go a long way in displacing bad behavior, fostering a sense of safety and well-being, and reassuring them that the situation is in control.
If there has been a house break-in, for example, you can break the news by reassuring them, "Mommy will make sure the police are notified and they will make sure nothing bad happens to any of us. We are still safe."
3 Keep it simple
There is something called the K.I.S.S principles - Keep It Simple Stupid. This means keeping explanations basic, and understanding that children don't have the life experience to understand certain things.
To give an example, if you have to explain mental illness to a child, you can understand that they will know basic feelings, like sad, happy, confused, frightened, anxious, but won't be able to fully understand things like bipolar, or depression. In this instance, you can keep it basic by explaining someone who they love is very sad and this is affecting their behavior, rather than trying to make them understand something complex like depression.
2 Ask open-ended questions
If you are talking to your child about something difficult to speak about then ask them questions - which require more than just a 'yes' or 'no' answer. These are called open-ended questions and they facilitate communication between yourself and your child.
Asking these questions will also allow you to probe how they are feeling about a certain issue or topic, and specifically asking open-ended questions will allow you to steer the conversation based on their responses and perceptions, addressing issues that need to be addressed.
1 Get help
Depending on the nature of the conversation, you might need to employ the services of a mediator or an expert in the topic/circumstances you are addressing your child on.
For example, if there is a tragedy, after reassuring your child and talking to them about the situation, you might like to then ask a counselor to sit in, and speak to you together, or with the child alone. Or if there is a behavioral issue, you might like to refer to expert advice or get a mediator to mediate between yourself and your child in a loving way, to come up with a solution to the problem.