Do you recall the time your parents sat you down for “The Birds and the Bees” talk? There were probably those awkward pauses, the intricate dance around the topic, and the use of polite metaphors that left you a bit puzzled. Now, as a parent yourself, you might find yourself less than thrilled at the prospect of revisiting those challenging discussions with your own kids. Whether it’s addressing concerns about exposure to explicit content, discussions around suicidal thoughts, or the impact of social media on self-esteem, these are conversations that need to happen. And even if your children have managed to avoid these issues, there are countless others that could be affecting them.

Whit Honea, the bestselling author of The Parents’ Phrase Book and a dad of two, has had his fair share of tough conversations. We sat down with Whit to get his insights on how to approach these discussions.

What to Know Before Starting a Conversation

Before delving into a conversation, it’s crucial to be aware of the way you’re communicating. Remember those talks where you felt lectured rather than engaged in a friendly chat? It’s easy to slip into a lecturing mode, but the key is to prioritize listening to your child’s feelings alongside providing information. After sharing a point, turn the conversation back to them, asking for their thoughts. For instance, if you’ve discussed the prevalence of suicide mentions among kids, pause and inquire if anyone they know has brought up the topic. This approach allows your child to feel ownership of the conversation and demonstrates your genuine concern for their perspective. It might be helpful to prepare some discussion questions, either in writing or mentally, to encourage deeper conversation.

Taking a few moments to center yourself is also beneficial. “If the conversation is coming from a place of anger, stress, or worry, perhaps practice those talking points out loud or bounce them off a friendly ear,” suggests Honea.

Keeping Talks Casual and Ongoing

Initiating these talks doesn’t require scheduling a formal meeting. According to Honea, preparing kids for important matters involves taking small steps. You don’t need an agenda or a specific timeframe, and you don’t even have to acknowledge that it’s a tough conversation. The opportune moment might arise when something around you sparks curiosity in your child – perhaps a grandparent mentioning wildfires in California or seeing a Pride flag on a neighbor’s house.

“In our home, we frequently pause TV shows, movies, even video games, social media, and songs to discuss the subject matter,” Honea explains. “Granted, this often results in groans from the kids, but that’s okay. Discussing behaviors and topics in relation to others we like, love, or are invested in is a great prompt for connecting it to our own thoughts and values. This is something we can continue building on, whether it’s at the dinner table or waiting at a stoplight.”

If you suspect your child is dealing with issues like disordered eating, intense anxiety, cyberbullying, or hate speech, the emotional investment in these topics may make it challenging to stay calm. Feeling less than calm is normal, as these are emotionally charged issues. Honea provides some concrete tips:

Lead with love: Make it clear to your child that you are there for them. Take a break: Not everything can be resolved in one conversation, so take breaks and come up for air. Let your child prepare: Allowing children to prepare talking points before or during a cooling-off period can help keep the conversation civil. Talk through consequences: If the discussion involves your child’s actions, explain that facing consequences is a responsibility resulting from the situation, not a declaration of your anger.

Keeping Perspective While Moving Forward

“The best advice that I can offer any parent, whether dealing with tough conversations or a laundry list of life lessons, is to pace yourself,” Honea advises. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the multitude of things you need to teach your child, but remember, you don’t have to cover everything in one go. Follow up on important topics with reminders at appropriate times, building on the initial conversation. And don’t hesitate to lean on your community for support – talk to other parents, seek advice from mental health professionals, read relevant articles, or join online groups.

No matter what challenging topics you’re preparing to discuss, always remember that love can make a significant impact. A hug or some affirming words can go a long way in supporting your child through these difficult conversations.