To Be Perfectly Honest … With Your Kids

teatime
Image via Katie Hurley

Yes, you need to answer questions in ways that children can understand based on age and development, but your answers should be grounded in honesty.

Parents hear a lot about the importance of honest communication when it comes to building a trusting relationship with kids.  It’s sounds easy enough.  Keep it simple.  Use age appropriate language.  Don’t run from the hard topics.  Just like that, you can build a trusting relationship with your child.

Until you hear some version of the following:  “But HOW does the baby get in there?  And HOW does the doctor get it out?”  (Actual questions asked in my home – more than once.  Sigh.)

Parents of tweens and teens are often told to engage in honest communication with their kids, but the truth is that the honesty should be there all along. 

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If we want our kids to continue to seek us out when they need help with the tough questions as they grow, we need to be there with honest answers right now.

tea party
Image via Flickr/ regan76

Make a date.

Having a weekly “date” with your child creates a safe space for your child to approach you with difficult questions.  And it doesn’t have to be a big outing.  My daughter and I like to have tea and popcorn while my son has quiet time during the week.  More often than not, we simply chit chat about her day at school and what her friends are up to, but if something is weighing on her mind she always opens up during these little dates.  We also factor in 15 minutes of talk time together before bed every night, just in case.

When you establish a ritual with your child, you show that you are available (physically and emotionally).  Kids need to know that they have a safe space to talk about overwhelming topics with their parents, even when they’re young. 

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mom daughter talk
Image via Flickr/ loomingy1

Use active listening skills.

Kids need to feel heard and understood.  Some of their concerns might seem more important than others from your perspective, but their concerns are always important to them.  It might seem like your kids are overflowing with big feelings and impossible questions, but sometimes they just need someone to listen.

Listen to hear what your child is saying, not to respond or fix.  Make eye contact, repeat what your child says, ask follow up questions, and show empathy.

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mother daughter
Image via Flickr/ edenpictures

Revisit.

Kids can really throw us off guard.  Even when you plan your answers to the hard questions in advance, sometimes you freeze up in the moment.  Take your time.  When my kids bombarded me with questions about babies, I had my answers ready.  But the more I talked, the more I realized that we would need to have this discussion a few more times. 

If you can’t answer a question in an age appropriate manner in the moment, it’s perfectly acceptable to take some time to think.  When I’m stumped I like to say, “That’s a really important question and a hard one to answer.  Let me think about it for a little while, and I promise to have a good answer for you before bed.”  Kids think we know everything, and sometimes parents feel pressured to have an answer for everything, but rattling off inaccurate or dishonest information just to answer the question doesn’t build trust with your child.  Sometimes honesty means admitting that you’re not sure or you need some time to collect your thoughts.  Kids can and will respect that, and that will help you build a trusting relationship with your child. 

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What are some of the most difficult questions you have been asked by your kids? Were you perfectly honest?

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To Be Perfectly Honest … With Your Kids

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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