How to Talk About the “Tough Stuff”

Let’s face it: talking about sex, drugs and rock & roll with your kids can be just plain awkward. But alas, it is a necessary evil that will save you much energy and frustration on the back end. Here are a few ideas for you about how to approach these conversations so they are win-win for everyone!

  1. Timing is Everything! Parents often pick the WORST times to talk to their kids about sensitive subjects: in front of their friends, when they’re overly stressed out about school work and tests, or when they are flat out exhausted. Instead, parents should seek out a time when their kids are calm, relaxed and open to receiving information. For example, car rides are great! Not on the way to school of course, but in general, kids really open up in the car. Not having to sit face to face, but rather side by side, helps to alleviate awkward eye contact or feelings of confrontation.
  2. Limit Distractions. Trying to have a heart to heart while the TV is on, the dog is barking, Sally is texting and dinner is burning is NOT conducive to a meaningful connection. If you want your child to understand your concerns, fears and expectations, you need their full attention. That said, complete silence can be scary, especially during those awkward pauses when you’re trying to find the right words. Try putting on some light music in the background– and for bonus points, put on your child’s favorite artist or channel to boost their mood and increase receptiveness. Ask that cell phones be turned off or left in another room. Turn off all screens- tablets, TVs, computers, etc. Doing so will set you and your kid up to succeed in the focus department.
  3. LISTEN UP! While you deserve the time to express your perspectives, lecturing your child will undoubtedly shut them down, create distance between the two of you, or worse, you risk pushing them so far that they go directly against your wishes just to spite you. Most parents are inclined to impose strict rules around the “tough stuff”. Why? FEAR! In order to mitigate fear, ask your child loads of questions and listen intently to what they have to say. Genuinely inquire about pressures to fit in with the crowd or please their partner. Find out what they think is appropriate or reasonable in these areas, and work together to create guidelines that are safe and comfortable for both of you.
  4. Bring in the Big Guns. If talking about sex with your child is just too much of a challenge, then bring in an outside source. A third party can offer objective information without coming across as judgmental or preachy. For instance a pediatrician can educate your child about health risks associated with risky or promiscuous behaviors. And, a coach like myself can work with your child to develop their core values in order support them in making smart, self-honoring choices in the moment.

Hold your ground. Ultimately, it is your job to set and hold boundaries or policies for your kids. (And by the way, it will greatly benefit you to anticipate their push back or testing of those boundaries!) Set up some direct consequences in advance, so your kids understand the implications of their behavior. That way, they can be held accountable for their actions without any ifs, ands or buts creeping in. Making empty threats send the absolute worst message to your kids. If you identify a consequence, enforce it. Period. Otherwise your child will know they hold the power and will wield it against you over and over again.

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