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Having Meaningful Conversations With Kids When the Topic Is Uncomfortable For Adults

Having Meaningful Conversations With children When the Topic Is Uncomfortable For Adults

Jen Cort

Consider these kinds of conversations as icebergs, we only see the tip of an iceberg but the bulk of what is happening is below the water line. Tips for raising the icebergs include:

  • Ask! We know from physics, energy isn't created or destroyed, only redistributed. As adults, when we have something on our minds it takes from the task at hand and the same is true for children. Try asking what they know, what they want to know and what they need in that moment.

  • Give yourself permission not to have the answers. Acknowledging that you do not know what to say but that you want to listen gives permission for children to express their feelings and know they will be heard.

  • Make an agreement. Children often believe we see and hear everything. Therefore if someone makes a hurtful comment and children do not see us respond, they feel alone. Try asking "What would help you when you think I heard something but you didn't see me respond?"

  • Name the team. Ask children to think about who they could talk to about these concerns? At home? At school?

  • This is a safe place to discuss… create a list with them of safe topics… leaving room to add more as needed.

  • Time to think. Give yourself time to ask others, reflect and breath. Letting a child know a question is so important it needs consideration is a thoughtful way to handle a challenge. In such cases, getting back to the child in a timely manner is essential.

  • Seek resources when needed

  • Follow-up as needed by checking in to see how things are going

  • Set times to talk

  • Own your mistakes, setting the example of making an authentic apology is a gift to your child.

  • Partner with your child/student. Most of us were not taught how to have these conversations and because we fear making mistakes we do not begin them. Convey your goals of making them feel comfortable and supported. Ask for a partnership where you will create opportunities for them to talk and they will let you know if they need something different from you.

  • Identify when the bucket is full. Ask "What will help you when you become upset? Who will you talk to? How are you taking care of yourself? What do you need to focus on the task at hand?"

  • Take a deep breath and allow yourself time. Talking about a challenging topic when you are emotionally stricken will not help your children. Try telling the group you want to hear their thoughts and have your own feelings about it so in order not to mix the two up you will assign a writing or video journal project with the topic being something along the lines of "I wish..."

  • Follow-up with your children to check in and see how they are doing.

  • Find a partner. If flying with a child, the flight attendants will remind us to put on our oxygen mask first because we cannot help our child if we are not taking care of yourself. As educators and parents, we should have someone to call for advice or to download. Using this resource takes care of you and models for your children the importance of having a team.

  • Remember sometimes children need silence to process a discussion/topic.

  • My favorite strategy is one question, one sentence, one more question, one more sentence and so on. When a child asks a question on a challenging topic, answer in one sentence and then allow for another question, with one more sentence until the topic is exhausted. Often we address our own anxiety with too many words which may confuse your child and may not address what they really want to know.


  • Talking About Race Age by Age

  • One example of talking to your child about race and privilege

  • Pinterest with boards by social identifier

  • Book list by topic

Please contact Jen Cort at for more ideas

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