Artwork by Diya Mawandia
With all the extra media coming our way now, the way we talk to our children is more important than ever. Children nowadays are exposed to almost an unlimited amount of information, a lot of which might be inaccurate, which when internalised, poses significant danger to their understanding, behaviour, and the choices they make.
Safety starts with information. This is why it becomes important that we, as parents, provide important and accurate information to our children, addressing various topics that are vital to human life.
So, how do we talk to children about difficult topics like sex and death?
Why sex and death and how are the related?
To put it simply, for each child who is focused on their existence it is the answer of where did I come from and where will I go? Their inherent curiosity sees the cyclicality of life that modern pop culture takes away.
The conversation centers around trust and comfort and takes us into territories like morality, religion, culture, mortality, expectations, health and the meaning of life! This is not a single conversation but a series of conversations we start at at 4 and keep going well into adulthood.
Trust is developed in the relationship through the interactions and experiences that you have together and the way you behave with or treat each other. I remember my earliest lesson in trust. I was at a mela - one of those old school fairs with game stalls like ring tossing and knocking down cans to collect coupons that you can exchange for a prize at the end. My kids were under 7 at the time and we had lots and lots of coupons which had cost us lots and lots of money! After a long day of ring tossing and can knocking, we reached the prize counter, ready to exchange our coupons for gifts. I sat down to do what mothers in front of me always do.. look for the best deal and ‘gently persuade’ my children to choose the sensible option over what they actually wanted. The lady behind the counter was very patient, she looked at me and asked, ‘How hard would it be to let them choose?’.
Yes, how hard would it be? What was I trying to achieve? This wasn’t going to make a dent in my household expense budget but what it would do is help my children expect me to trust them and their decisions. Small, age appropriate decisions without judgement and with appreciation. This trust is what gets extended into allowing them the freedom to navigate these conversations with what we provide as a framework and not a stencil. Allowing them to be able to agree to disagree. So what do we reflect on here? Our need for control. As we let go of this control we actually are able to show comfort in our own values and trust in their ability to navigate. When children feel this trust, they come to us with questions instead of typing it up in google!
Kids are exposed to this truth as young as age 3. Could be watching ants die under their little fingers, could be leaves falling off or could be some loss closer to home. They are fascinated and curious about where life comes from and where it goes when we die. With the Covid-19 pandemic that we have all experienced and the numerous stories of death around us this has come closer home now more than ever. It is a topic that is cloaked in mystery and grief and it takes a lot of courage for a child to feel they are allowed to ask about it. They don’t sugar coat it. They don’t chase around the bush. They call it as it is. Dieing. Death.
Most of us struggle with this because we are either dealing with the pain of losing someone (doesn’t matter how old the wound is.. if it stings it stings), or we are grappling with what the after death story is and don’t know. What if we were to have this conversation with the I don’t knows? What if we were to listen and not tell? Ask them what they think. Share with them what various cultures believe. Ask them what they would like to think. It’s such a rich conversation to have, we just need to get started. So to talk about death we need to reflect on our own emotions first - particularly grief and loss. If we have processed these emotions for ourselves we feel so much more comfortable to listen to what our children feel.. for them, afterlife is like magic!
Studies reveal that children are exposed to pornographic material as young as age 6. If you spend enough time watching children’s YouTube shows you will notice random pop ups of inappropriate content. Predators are lurking online and unfortunately offline. We know the best way to keep children safe is to start with naming the body parts and teaching them consent. This conversation is a 10 year conversation which starts with body parts and where we come from which then matures at puberty with safe sex and sexual identity. This might seem like a lot to process - that’s why it needs to be broken into bite size portions for you and your child to journey on together. If we wait for this conversation to be delivered by a teacher in school, we lose the chance to help them navigate the values we might hold around these topics. That loss of opportunity is likely to haunt the relationship for the rest of its journey. The reality is - if you don’t provide them information to educate them, the internet will. Do you trust the internet? For a lot of us this topic is hard because no one spoke to us and we just don’t know how to do it ourselves. So let’s learn!
Join me for my workshop on how to approach difficult conversations with your children - “That Difficult Talk”. Learn how to navigate all these topics and more. The world is changing and we need to embrace this change. If we don’t we will become obsolete. If we embrace the change we are not losing control but walking into the roller coaster in control. If we don’t embrace this, we will still be pushed into that same steep drop but maybe with no seatbelts on!