I have two kids (and more grey hair than I care to admit).
My son is seven and my daughter is ten so, while I haven’t hit the dreaded teen years and all the “drama” that supposedly comes with that, it still surprises me when I hear some of the things my kids talk about.
But what surprises me even more is how inadequately prepared many parents are – including me! – when it comes to talking with their kids when they have questions. Especially about “sensitive” topics like sex.
Parents, we have a tough job. Balancing wisdom with discretion is a full-time endeavor, but talking with our kids should not be that hard. We just have to make sure we handle these conversations in ways that are beneficial instead of destructive.
So, with that in mind, I want to give you 5 vital ground rules for talking with your kids:
I know that’s a slogan for deodorant, but when you talk to your kids about anything, especially sensitive topics, you can’t let on that you may be feeling some discomfort.
You need to exude “coolness.”
If you want your kids to have enough confidence in you to ask the things you really want them to ask, then they need to know mom and dad won’t freak out.
They need you to be their rock. Be a grounding influence in your children’s lives, not the other way around. Even if you’re panicking inside, stay cool, calm, and collected on the outside.
2. Be honest, even when it hurts.
Being cool doesn’t mean being fake. Listen, it’s only a matter of time until your kids ask you something that you really don’t want to answer, and it’s okay to admit that you don’t know the answer or that the honest one is a tough one.
Maybe it’s on a topic that you’d just rather not talk about, like porn.
Or maybe it’s something about you. Or maybe it’s an awkward question like:
Dad, why are those men holding hands?
Mom, what did Jared from Subway do that was so bad?
Dad, did you ever do drugs?
Mom, did you have sex before you got married?
And the list of cringe-worthy questions go on.
Here is the time you need to choose honesty over image. You need to display integrity and not just pretend it.
Because kids respect honesty WAY more than authority.
Yes, exercise wisdom and discretion. If your 7-year-old asks you about porn (like mine did recently), you can answer them honestly at a level they’ll understand; you don’t have to go into all the genres and websites they can visit.
Honesty may hurt, but it will pay HUGE dividends when it comes to building a relationship with your kids.
3. Only use fear as motivation sparingly.
Machiavelli once said that it was better to be feared than loved, and while that type of thinking may work in movies like A Bronx Tale, it’s a terrible method of parenting.
Don’t get me wrong. I want my kids to have a healthy amount of respect when I tell them not to do something, but only when it comes to certain situations.
For example, when I’m yelling at my kids to get out the street when a car is coming, I don’t really want or care to explain why. I want them to know by my tone of voice that Dad means business.
But when I tell them that looking at porn or having sex before they get married is not a wise choice, I don’t want them to respond out of fear. That won’t work in the long run.
Dos and don’ts are no match for whys and wherefores. You aren’t going to scare your kids into making good decisions. You need to walk with them through it.
4. Be PROactive not REactive
It’s important for your kids to be able to talk to you, but it’s just as important (if not more) for you to talk to them.
I’m not saying to be a smotherer who constantly barrages them with questions about every little detail of their lives. Just show a little interest in what’s going on in their little world.
Let them know you care. That they matter.
Show them that talking about all areas of life is not a bad thing. That open dialogue is valuable and something they should pursue, not run from.
Don’t always wait for them to bring a topic to you. Sometimes, oftentimes, you need to bring the topic to them. If you’re waiting for your kids to ask you about porn or sex, then you waited too long, because they already (think they) know the answers.
Don’t practice knee-jerk parenting. Trust me, it sucks being the last one to the party.
5. Always make room on the table for anything that hits it.
My wife and I always tell our kids the same thing: nothing is off-limits.
You wanna talk video games? Cool
You wanna talk about poop and farts? Solid.
You wanna talk about sex? Yes, let’s do this!
I know it’s tempting to shelter our children, but if they think you have boundaries on conversational topics they’ll still talk about it … just not with you.
A good friend of mine said that he was totally fine whenever his teenage girl wanted to go to some kid’s party. He explained:
“I know there may be things happening there I’m not cool with but my daughter and I talk about this stuff. We have trust. I’d rather her be able to stand on her own two feet in the moment than not know what to do when the moment gets there.”
Parents, the key to having open dialogue with your kids is simple:
You need to dialogue. (i.e. talk)
You need to be open.
There. Easy as that.
Talking to your children about stuff is not an art form that requires years of training. It’s not a secret formula.
Be ready to talk about whatever comes your way.
Now stop reading and start talking. Your kids are waiting.