How to Talk About Difficult Current Events with Children

There’s no doubt that we’re living in interesting times. If you’re feeling challenged, confronted, confused, then you’re not the only one. And if, as adults, we’re feeling unsettled then our children and students are feeling it even more so. The challenge is, how to do we talk to our kids about things that we’re not sure about ourselves? Here are the five strategies that I believe are most useful for navigating this tricky ground.

Summary for those short on time:

– Let them know your available to talk

– Use age appropriate language and concepts

– Be open to differences of opinion and views

– Know your limits and use them to develop a growth mindset

– Be a “goodish” person

Let Them Know You’re There

Some times all you can do is let children know that you’re open to discussing things if they ever want to. It’s as simple as saying, “You know, there’s a lot going on in the world right now. If you even want to have a chat about it then I’m here.” You don’t need to force it, but you do need to be genuine in you willingness to talk. Nothing will shut a kid down faster than being told they can come to you, and then finding you actually not as available to talk as you made out.

Keep Things Age Appropriate

Using age appropriate language doesn’t mean dumbing things down, but it does mean using words and terms that are accessible for the children you’re talking with. Remember also that developmentally, younger children are less capable of understanding abstract ideas and may need more concrete examples than older children. For example, if you’re discussing racism then younger children may need you to define and give examples of what racism is, where as older children and teenagers may already have a good grasp on what it is (particularly if they’ve experienced it first hand).

Remember You’re Having a Conversation and Be Prepared for Dissenting or Differing Opinions

Remember when you were young (or possibly younger) and things were black and white and if everyone could just see things the right way, and do things the right way, the world would be a better place? That’s where your children and students are right now. The older we get, the more experiences we have and the more we understand about the world. Unfortunately that means we lose some of our naive optimism. The payoff is that the world become more nuanced and interesting. But that hasn’t happened for most kids yet.

When you’re having a conversation (the key word there is conversation) keep in mind that children and teenagers are going to have a less nuanced view of the world (you may know some adults like this) than you. If you’re a parent, you might recognise some of their views as coming from influences outside of your family (like their teachers or friends). This can be confronting but it’s completely normal and healthy. If you’re a teacher, you might recognise that their views conflict sharply with your own. Again, this is normal and healthy. The golden rule for these situations is that everyone is respectful of each other, and that if things get heated you agree to disagree.

You Don’t Know Everything – And That’s OK

Many adults are scared to say to children, “I don’t know.” They worry that they’ll lose face, or respect. But you are not the fount of all knowledge and your children and students already know that (even if you wish they didn’t). Admitting that you don’t have all the answers (why did Covid-19 become such a big problem? How do viruses mutate?) opens a space for you and your children or students to work together to find the answers, which not only makes the conclusions you draw more satisfying, if helps them build the skills to be life-long learners.

You Just Need to be Goodish

This point goes back to several of the things we’ve already discussed. In order to have these conversations with our children and students we need to be open to the fact that they may not agree with us, and in fact they may call us out of some of our views and opinions. When this happens, it can be hard not to get defensive. Not to rally to our own cause and our perception of ourselves as good people. But in becoming defensive not only do we shut down our children’s desire to talk to us about things that matter, we also curtail our chance to change and grow.

I found this TED Talk by Dolly Chugh absolutely transformative for how I saw myself and how I engaged with ideas that challenged my view of right and wrong. It’s really short and I recommend taking the time to watch it and consider what Ms. Chugh is saying.

I hope that these strategies are useful in helping your kids navigate these difficult times. Remember that you don’t need to have all the answers or solve the worlds problems, just being there and open to talking is enough to help the young people in your life feel safe and secure.

If you have strategies that you use when talking with your children or students about difficult topics we’d love to hear them in the comments.

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