How to Talk to Children about Difficult Subjects

  • Perseverance is pushing yourself to work through challenges and obstaclesWhatever students and families are feeling - angry, sad, disappointed, anxious, excited, hopeful, exhausted – is valid. It is important to find a balance between honoring feelings while also focusing on the positive and good that could happen. Adults must take the lead in setting the tone. Children will follow the lead of the adults around them. Here are a few ideas that may be helpful.

    Please reach out to your school’s Mental Health Team for additional assistance.

    • Wait for the right moment. At this age, children are still likely to come to you if they've heard about something frightening. You can check in with them to decide if they want to discuss something. If they don't bring it up, you may want to wait until they ask about it.

    • Find out what they know. Ask your children what they've heard or if their friends at school are talking about it. Answer questions simply and directly, trying not to overexplain or increase fears.

    • Create a safe space for discussion. Say, "These topics are hard to discuss, even for adults. Let's just talk. I want you to feel free to ask me anything you want."

    • Provide context and perspective. Children need to understand the basic circumstances around an issue to fully make sense of it.

    • Address their curiosity. If your child wants to explore serious topics in more depth than you can provide, say, "Let's find a book or another resource that offers some information."

    • Be sensitive to children's emotions and temperament. You never know what may trigger your child. Check in by sharing how you feel and asking them how they feel. Say, "I feel angry” or “I feel sad.” Ask, "What are you feeling right now?"

    • Encourage critical thinking. Ask open-ended questions to get children to think more deeply about serious topics. Ask, "What did you hear?", "What did it make you think?", and "Why do you think that?"

    • Look for positives. There may not be a silver lining to every cloud, yet try to be optimistic that positive things can come from change. Ask "What good things could come from this?” Say, “Let's find ways that we can help."

    • Focus on your child’s strengths: Ask, “How do you show perseverance? When was the last time you showed courage?” Share positive affirmations for kids.

    • Access resources: This article, "How to Talk to Children about School Closures," is from the perspective of schools being closed during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, the tips and ideas are applicable to other situations.

    • Read a story with your child. There are many quality book titles about change

    Courage is choosing what is helpful, right, and kind - even when it's hard or scary.