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Get Tips on Having Tough Conversations with Children

Virtually no topic is off-limits these days, which means children often hear things that may confuse or worry them. Politics, shootings, divorce and death — how do parents tackle tough conversations with young children?

Nina Mattarella, MD, PhD, a pediatrician at Samaritan Lincoln City Medical Center, said if your child comes to you with a difficult question, a good first step is to ask, “What have you heard?”

“This will help you find out what they understand or misunderstand, and why they are asking,” said Dr. Mattarella. “Based on the answer, you may ask other questions to clear up any confusion.”

Keep your answers simple, truthful and appropriate for your child’s age. Depending on the situation, kids may not need all the specifics but only information that directly relates to them.

Ask more questions to find out what emotion may be prompting the question. Children are curious, but often the reason behind a question is seeking reassurance about their own sense of security. For example, if your child asks about a shooting on the news, you might say, “I feel sad those people were hurt. How do you feel?”

“If a topic makes you sad, don’t hide your emotions but you should not rely on the child to comfort you. That is best done by another adult,” Dr. Mattarella said. “Most important is to reassure your child that they are healthy, safe and loved.”