Talking about hard things to kids

Parenting in the age of a pandemic

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Dear Wellness Expert –
We are surrounded right now by terrible things -- tyranny, oppression, racism, political division, climate change, and COVID – 19. How should we talk with our kids about these realities as a family without overwhelming them?
Signed, Very Concerned Parent
Dear Very Concerned,

Whether we notice it or not, kids are watching.  They are so much more aware of what’s happening around them than we ever give them credit for.  They see the news clips, hear adults around them, and pick up on the tension in our language or actions when often heated topics like diversity, religion, politics, sex, climate, or COVID come up.  Kids are sponges, soaking up all that is around them.  Make no mistake; they have their eye on us. 
Sounds a bit creepy, right?  It’s all a part of growing up, and that’s the way we were, too. Young children are supposed to look to their environment and the adults around them to try and make sense of the world. Therefore, it’s critically important that the adults make sure that kids are understanding all that’s coming at them and check in often.  It’s important to be honest and transparent with your kids.  They need to know that you’ll never purposefully lead them astray.  So while you will want to choose your words carefully, direct communication is key.  You may want to practice what you want to say to your child with your partner or a trusted friend, too.  When talking with kids, acknowledge the facts of what is happening around the country by saying things like, “In our country, people are free to peacefully come together and ask for what they think is right or to draw attention to things they disagree with” or “people with different color skin than you and I haven’t always been treated very kindly in our country, and it’s important that they have the chance to tell others how they feel about it.”
To get the conversation going, ask your child lots of questions to get a sense of what they are seeing and hearing and to better understand what they think certain terms or words mean.  This is also an opportunity to clarify misunderstandings and correct rumors or falsehoods. This is also an opportunity for kids to build empathy with others.  You can ask your child, “Have you ever felt like you were not being treated very fairly?  How did that feel when it happened?” 
This article from PBS is a good reference on talking honestly with children about racism.
These conversations should be heavier on kids doing the talking and adults doing all the listening.  Long speeches from the adults just won’t be well retained. So, keep your answers short and sweet and stay focused on facts.  It’s OK to share how you feel about a topic, but follow your kid’s lead.  Kids need to develop their own opinions on such topics as well.
Chris McLaughlin, LCSW, Associate Vice President, Community & Pediatric Services, Acadia Hospital
More tools and support

WABI recently interviewed Chris on this very topic.
Send us your pandemic parenting questions here.

And, as always, EAP is there for you. EAP is an easy telephone consult away at 1 – 800 – 769 – 9819.