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Talking about tough topics
Talking about tough topics

Why it’s good to talk about tough topics with children

Divorce, illness, death, sex, natural disasters – they’re all part of life. Talking about tough topics is one way you can help your child deal with life’s difficulties.

If you encourage open communication about tough topics, your child learns that she can always talk to you. She’ll understand that you’ll be there to listen if something is worrying her. This is a great foundation for communication in the teenage years.

Also, talking about tough topics strengthens your child’s ability to think, solve problems and communicate. It also helps to build your child’s resilience.

And talking about tough topics with your child gives you a chance to explain values and beliefs that are important to your family.

Talking about tough topics at different ages

The way you handle tough topics will depend on your child’s age and how he makes sense of the world.

Toddlers and preschoolers
Toddlers and preschoolers understand the differences between feeling happy, sad, afraid or angry. But they need lots of reassurance to understand new and more complex feelings. And they also think in very concrete ways and are still learning how concepts fit together.

This means that when you talk about tough topics with toddlers and preschoolers, it’s good to focus on feelings that they understand and explain things in simple language. For example:

  • ‘Grandma has died and we won’t see her anymore. I’m very sad.’
  • ‘We love you. But we think the family will be happier if Dad and I live in different houses.’
  • ‘Babies grow in a place inside their mummies called the uterus’.
  • ‘I was really scared too when that car crashed into us, but we’re safe now.’

School-age children
At this age, children have more emotional maturity and understand more complex emotions – but new emotions are still overwhelming for them sometimes. Their brains are developing rapidly, and they can absorb new information quickly. Their worlds have expanded too, and they might come across more tough topics through the media or conversations with other children at school.

This means that when you talk about tough topics with your school-age child, you can talk about more complex emotions and go into more detail. For example:

  • ‘Death means not living anymore, like the flowers die so they don’t grow anymore. Or the dog died so he doesn’t eat and play anymore. All living things die some time.’
  • ‘We both love you. But Dad and I don’t want to be married to each other anymore. Dad and I will live in different houses, but we’ll both look after you.’
  • ‘To make a baby, a sperm from a man and an egg from a woman join together.’
  • ‘I know it was scary when we had to leave home because of the fire. But remember how we followed our bushfire plan? And then lots of people helped us know what to do next.’

It’s always good to be aware of what your child is seeing or talking about at child care, preschool or school, as well as what she might be seeing in the media. This can give you the chance to raise tough topics with your child before she asks and guide her through them.


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