When I was a little girl, these were the words I dreaded hearing coming out of my mother’s mouth. They always heralded a difficult topic, and were a signal for me to be on my guard. Mostly, whatever it was Mum wanted to talk to me about was never as bad as I had imagined it might be.
There are all kinds of difficult subjects we need to discuss with our children, and they are not all of the bone-picking kind. There are sensitive issues such as alcohol, sex and drugs to deal with for our older children, and the more tragic aspects of life such as disease and death can rear their ugly heads at any time. How should we handle those difficult conversations?
The most important thing is to try, as the adult, to remain as dispassionate and factual as possible. If you can manage to keep your emotions in check, this is more likely to encourage your children to come to you if they have problems with related or similar issues in the future. They may not do this if they are frightened of upsetting you. Try to figure out exactly what it is about the interaction you are worried about. Are you frightened of being judged, worried an argument will ensue, concerned you will lose authority or look foolish? Once you can be honest about your own feelings, it’s much easier to deal with those of your child.
Do you have a friend that you trust, that you feel comfortable with, enough to spill to? It can sometimes help to have a trial run, to practice the difficult conversation with your friend role playing the child you are about to speak with. The more prepared and confident you feel you are, the more able you will be to cope with any unforeseen or tricky reactions from your child.
Whatever your situation, try and resist the urge to run away or forget about it. If it’s important enough for you to be concerned with, then it’s likely that your child will be picking up on various signals anyhow. Better to deal with the matter straight out, to pre-empt any gossip or half-truths that will be filled with the full strength of a young person’s imagination.
Pick your moment well - not when either of you are tired or hungry or distracted by other business. It can be helpful to go for a walk. Talking side by side can be less confrontational, intimidating or intense. Be completely honest, be calm, be factual. You don’t have to have all the answers, if you don’t know, say you don’t know, it is allowed. Remember this interaction is not really about you, it’s about your child. Once you remember to keep the focus where it belongs, you should find the whole situation a little easier.
There’s a part of my Storytelling show where I pretend to fall asleep on the floor in the front of the children. Often, this totally freaks my core audience of 4-8 year olds, despite my comedy snoring.
Depending on age, group, mood etc., they either shout and scream at me to wake up (in a way that starts off playfully but if I push the duration, veers into slight desperation), shyly approach and prod me, or they fall silent and look to their adults to sort out this unexpected turn of events. There is always the laughter of relief when I wake up.