Discussing difficult topics with children

Posted on March 11, 2020 at 6:00 am

father and daughter talking, with dog in park

By Gwendolyn Haley

I have found that parenting includes the need to have difficult conversations with children.

My family recently lost a beloved dog, Pepe, who had been with us for over 14 years. He was an old dog and spent more and more of his time resting and sleeping. So while we were prepared on some level, the loss has still hit us hard. We have been spending time talking to each other about our feelings of sadness and grief. We have also taken time to remember all the things we love about Pepe.

This shared remembering is inspired by the beautiful picture book The Tenth Good Thing about Barney, by Judith Viorst.

I am grateful that we are able to express those feelings as a family, creating the space we each need to process. My youngest daughter told me that she didn’t think she had any more tears, and I told her that I might still have some more crying to do. We agreed that there isn’t a right or wrong way to feel sad.

As parents, we constantly navigate changes with our children and the feelings they bring about. Your family could be coping with a parent deploying for military service, a grandparent moving into the home or into long-term care, a new sibling coming home, or the departure of a family member.

Fred Rogers said:

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

Mr. Rogers got it right. And I often look to books to help me broach sensitive or difficult topics with my children. Sometimes, reading about someone else’s experience can help us give voice to our feelings.

I have read a book together with my child, where we talk about the difficult topic as we read. At other times, such as the onset of puberty, I carefully selected a book on the topic and gave it to my child to read on her own, along with the invitation to freely discuss any questions she had. One child had a list of questions, and the other preferred to process the information alone. 

As a parent, you know your child best and are best qualified to decide how to broach a subject. To help, you’ll find a tremendous number of resources at the library to broach difficult subjects.

Library staff are here to help you track down books, both fiction and nonfiction, on any subject and help you select the best one to start the conversation. You can also search the library catalog or browse the shelves in nonfiction to find a book on a specific topic.

You may also find a library program to help you broach difficult discussions like this one:

Helping Your Tween Learn Healthy Dating Habits

Learn conversation starters and strategies to talk with your tween as they begin to form their first dating relationships. Recognize the warning signs of unhealthy relationships and how to guide your tween to healthy relationship habits. This program is geared toward adults caring for middle-school age children, but caregivers of older or younger children are also welcome to attend.

Wednesday, Mar 11, 6:30–8pm

Tuesday, Apr 28, 6–7:30pm

1010 E LAKE ST

Tuesday, May 19, 6–8pm

This program is offered in partnership with YWCA Spokane and Medical Lake School District.

So if you have a difficult discussion looming, I invite you to stop by your local library, visit our website to find books and resources, and check out Engage for upcoming library programs that might help.

Gwendolyn Haley

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