What to do When Your Kids ask the Hard Questions
Honesty is key to tackling tough conversations with kids.
We may dread them and even try to avoid them, but one day our kids are going to ask questions we'd rather not answer. Tough questions about love, sex, relationships, drugs, our personal relationships … the list goes on. It is our job as parents to answer these questions even when we want to run the other way. Kelly McNelis, founder of Women For One, which empowers women to be themselves, shares her insights on to field the tough questions. No. 1: Honesty always.
Why is it important as a mom to be honest with your children, rather than to sugar coat or avoid hard topics?
Our kids are watching us all the time. If they see us avoiding hard topics, or backing away from the things that make us uncomfortable, we teach them to play it safe and stuff their feelings down. It’s our responsibility to teach our children the meaning of emotional honesty and how to work through our challenges with transparency and the willingness to learn from conflict. This is why it’s important to clarify our own values and hone our communication skills—especially when it comes to talking to our kids.
Admittedly, it’s tough to be the initiator of the hard conversations. It requires getting conscious and clear about your own intentions; it also requires figuring out whether or not your child can handle what you are offering them. I have discovered that I need to be very sensitive and respect their individuality and needs.
We as moms can’t just push the conversation onto them. We must be creative about how we go about talking to them, because — let's face it — just as we are usually trained to expect our kids’ respect, they are trained to internally roll their eyes at what we have to say! But in being honest, we give our kids permission to do the same.
It’s important to go into the tough conversations without expectations or the desire for positive reinforcement and feedback. We are not here to get our needs met by our children. Regardless of how your kids react, just know that you are setting a foundation for honest discussion that will absolutely have positive longterm effects on them and your future relationship.
How do you think embracing these tough conversations can strengthen a mother’s relationship with her kids?
Embracing tough conversations shows your kids that you are there for them, no matter what. When no topic is too taboo or off limits, your kids learn that they can trust you unconditionally. You build valuable channels of communication that matter, because they foster true connection and become the foundation for your relationship when things get tough.
So many young people fear disapproval, which can keep them from coming to their parents with challenges and important questions. When parents willingly move toward the tough conversations, our children realize that they can trust us. Just remember, communication is a two-way street. And when you show respect for your kids’ unique perspectives, you also end up learning from them. I promise that they will appreciate you for this.
For many parents, we’ve been ingrained with the notion that we have to fix or teach our children, and that they should automatically respect us because we’re the grown-ups. Obviously, this isn’t the best way to promote active and meaningful dialogue. Because hard conversations are already so sensitive, we need to go in with the desire not just to talk, but to listen. This starts with treating our kids as the unique, powerful human beings they are. We can do this by asking them what their needs are and creating the space for them to fully be themselves in the conversation. We can also do it by being discerning about what does and does not merit these kinds of discussions. Sometimes, it’s OK to let it go and trust our kids to figure things out for themselves.
Should moms be worried about using the right words and saying the right thing or in these kinds of conversations is it better to be raw and vulnerable with your own children?
We need to make sure to maintain appropriate boundaries with our kids, depending on their age and maturity level, and the topic of conversation. I always advocate, however, being vulnerable and truthful. Believe me, it is possible to be mindful and respectful without censoring yourself.
Tackling the hard conversations means you need to acknowledge your truth, your humanity, and the fact that life is messy — and “messing up” is just a part of all of that. When you are willing to be that real with your kids, and to embrace your own flaws without any shame, it shows them that they can trust you even more. So stop trying so hard to be a “good” parent and trying to get it right according to someone else’s standards. Trust yourself!
You also don’t need to pretend that you have all the answers. For a parent, there is nothing more vulnerable than admitting that you don’t know, and this can be a powerful bonding moment! Just be honest about it, take this opportunity to be curious and non-judgmental, and explore some possibilities with your kids.