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How to Talk to Kids about Tough Topics

Talking to kids about tough topics is one of the hardest things educators and parents have to do. Whether kids have questions about today’s terror events around the globe, yesterday’s terrorism on American soil, war, racism, poverty, drugs, or something else, we need to be clear, safe, and thorough when offering up answers.

 The September 11 memorial in New York City


And above all, we must be truthful, while remembering that “I don’t know, let's find out together” is a perfectly acceptable thing to say.

It’s impossible to protect our children, no matter how much we want to. The world is full of media outlets, and they are going to come across a YouTube video, a post on social media, a news broadcast, or even a conversation between other people that makes them stop and wonder.

Of course, every age has its own guidelines for these kinds of conversations, but overall, it’s best not to shy away from hard subjects. Certainly, don’t expose kids to news media before they’re ready, but you can make a difference in how they react by being open and willing to discuss things, even if you feel uncomfortable about it. 

Keep some of these tips in mind as you navigate the questions and concerns of children growing up during what can feel like tumultuous times.

  • Avoiding these hard conversations isn’t a good idea. Kids will turn to other, potentially less reliable sources for information if they can’t get it from you. If you’re talking about a subject you don’t know very well, a shared dive into research could resolve a lot of a child’s concerns and help them learn about using technology to find reliable information.
  • Joining communal memorial activities or visiting monuments that were raised to commemorate events are wonderful ways of letting kids know they’re not alone. There are ample opportunities on September 11 to engage with the community—it’s quite likely your child’s school will have a moment of silence or a ceremony to mark the occasion that affected so many Americans.
  • Keep checking in with kids about how they’re feeling. Even if they seem relaxed and happy, they might still be processing your dialogue and need to ask more questions of you.
  • Use art to access feelings. Drawing, painting, music, writing, poetry, acting—the arts offer a healthy, productive outlet for emotions that kids might not even realize they’re having.
  • Talk about the facts, the history, the ways in which the issue is being handled around the world. Knowing the facts as opposed to relying on opinions (whether these opinions come from other kids, other adults, or the media) is essential to being part of a positive solution.
  • Be reassuring. It can sometimes feel like extreme disaster lies in wait around every corner, but chances are very, very good that you and your children won’t be victims. As the old saying goes, “Prepare for the worst and expect the best.” We can recognize the beauty and wonder in the world while still acknowledging the heartache, and be better for the balance.

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