I wish parenting came with an instruction manual to teach us how and what to say when difficult situations arise. But the reality is, parenting is a lifelong experiment that requires a lot of patience, grace, and trial-and-error. At some point, the need will arise when you must have a challenging conversation with your child.
How will you handle it?
Recently, my eldest child approached me with a question that caught me off guard. Although I wanted to dash away from the room, I knew that we needed to address this issue. I also knew I had to handle this moment with outward honesty and gentleness, even though I was terrified inside.
Here is what I learned about having challenging conversations with kids. Keep these tools in your parenting toolbox because surely your tough conversation time is coming. But don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.
Here are the tools you need to tackle tough conversations with your children.
Prepare Yourself First
There is a reason why the pilot will tell you to secure your oxygen mask before attempting to help others on the plane. It’s because you can’t help others if you are in distress. Handling tough conversations require the same preparation. Take some time before the need arises to confront issues that make you feel uncomfortable because these will most likely be the ones you will face in conversation form with your child. Deal with your issues and insecurities first so that you can put your best foot forward when the time comes.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Life is unpredictable! But you can be more prepared to handle tough conversations if you have a plan.
Here’s an example. What if your child tells you that (s)he wants to get a piercing that you are uncomfortable with? Do you tell them no without any explanation or explain why you feel that the piercing is not appropriate for them at the current time. Neither option is incorrect because parents are responsible for making tough decisions; however, it is not always easy to think clearly in the heat of the moment if you choose to explain.
That is why you practice maintaining your composure until you can respond appropriately to the situation. Next, practice the art of saying no, if that is your answer. Always practice listening to your child when (s)he is talking. And finally, practice “hearing” what your child is saying beyond the words they are speaking.
Perfect Your Poker Face
Appearing calm is easier said than done but so necessary. I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes it is tough for me to keep my cool. However, I have learned that my child is more willing to talk to me about things big or small if he feels that I will not overreact or make him wish that he had not told me in the first place. So, I try to maintain a level head and display a caring yet calm appearance when approached with a tricky topic.
Have you ever been in the midst of a heated conversation, and the other person tells you that you are looking at them in a certain way? You may not even be aware, but your face can tell the true story about the thoughts you are trying to hide.
Here’s a little trick, and I know it may feel silly, but it is worth a try. Pull out a mirror when you are by yourself. Imagine different scenarios that your child can say to you that would cause you to feel uncomfortable or upset. Then, observe your face at that moment. This simple technique will not make it easier to have a difficult conversation, but it will make you more aware of your reactions. Knowing is half the battle…at least that is what I’ve always heard.
Get Out of Your Feelings
This is a tough one, for sure! Regardless of the topic, do not center the entire discussion about you or your feelings. As parents, sometimes we take things personally and feel that our children’s actions reflect things we did or did not do. But the truth is, you are raising an independent thinker–one who is capable of making choices and having thoughts.
Many times, children are experiencing lots of things that they cannot understand or explain. It’s not you…it’s them!
When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.” – L.R. Knost
You are a super human, but you are not perfect, nor do you have all the answers. Sometimes, the best answer for the moment is, “I am not sure.” As parents, you may occasionally need to do a little research or soul searching to come up with answers or ways to approach specific conversations. That is okay.
No, this does not mean clean up before talking to your child. Rooms/areas can become associated with feelings, so having a tough conversation may require a change of scenery. For example, if you always discuss serious things at the dinner table, it may be a good idea to move your conversation to another room of the house. Changing scenery may lessen uneasy feelings and make communication smoother.
Give Yourself Grace
You are a super human, but you are not perfect, nor do you have all the answers. Sometimes, the best answer for the moment is, “I am not sure” or “give me a little while to think about it.” As parents, you may occasionally need to do a little research or soul searching to come up with answers or best ways to approach specific conversations. That is okay!
Let’s get rid of the expectation that we must know it all and give ourselves grace. As I mentioned earlier, parenthood is an ongoing experiment. You will be a rockstar at some things and conversations, and other times it may seem like you failed. But you did not, every occasion is a learning opportunity, and you did the best that you could at that moment.
Whether you have a child in elementary or high school, there will come a time when having to discuss a complicated topic is unavoidable. But you will do just fine if you remember to prepare yourself first, practice, perfect your poker face, change your environment, and give yourself grace.
Remember, you already have all the tools you need to be a great parent, and you are the best person for this job. So, go forth and tackle tough conversations when they arise…You’ve got this!
Let us know below if you have found other ways to make having tough conversations easier.
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