Talking to Your Child

Talking to Your Child

At Adams County Children’s Advocacy Center (ACCAC), the focus is on helping children to be safe; keeping children from being hurt, and helping them if they have been hurt. Emotional safety plays a critical role in a child’s well-being. Children need to know that they can trust their parents, caregivers, and other safe adults. When parents and caregivers are aware and understand their child’s thoughts and feelings, they are better prepared to raise emotionally healthy, well-adjusted children.

How to Talk to Your Child When You Have Concerns About Possible Abuse

When we see signs of distress in a child, we should react with sensitivity and patience and ask what’s bothering them. Signs don’t always mean abuse, but signs are a reason to work to figure out what’s happening in your child’s life. Keep in mind as you talk with your child:

  • It is important to recognize a child’s attempt to talk about their concerns and help them to feel safe in talking with you. 
  • Understand why children are sometimes afraid to tell. Let your child know that they can trust their gut feelings.   
  • Assure them that no matter what happened, they can share it with you.
  • Explain that secrets are harmful, and that if someone has asked them to keep a secret, they should tell you.

What to Do If Your Child Discloses Abuse to You

When a child discloses abuse to you, it means that the child has chosen you as the person he or she trusts enough to tell. The child has broken through secrecy, fear, and shame—even if only for a moment.  This is a big achievement. It shows the child’s resiliency.

  • Your child has taken a huge risk in telling you.  Provide attention and compassion. Let your child know that you believe them. 
  • Offer support and DON’T OVERREACT. 
  • Let your child tell of their experience without asking for additional details, and let your child know that you are going to get help. Report Abuse
  • Assure your child that they are very brave for telling you and that they did nothing wrong.

Learn more about the signs of possible abuse.

How to Talk to Your Child About Scary Stuff

As a parent, it’s hard to talk to your child about difficult subjects, such as abuse, bullying, violence, drugs, and other challenging subjects.  But in the media-saturated world we live in, children are often exposed to serious stories or situations.

When we are able to talk to our kids about the tough stuff, our bond with them is strengthened and we can teach them about the world we live in. It gives us the opportunity to share with them the way we gather and interpret information and gives them a baseline understanding so that they learn how to make good decisions.

When our kids experience something scary—getting hurt, witnessing violence either in real life or on TV, or seeing graphic porn via an innocent Google search, it is important to talk with them about it. But how? Here are some guidelines for discussing any difficult subject in a developmentally appropriate way with kids ages 2-12. 

Young children haven’t had enough life experience to understand all the aspects of a complex or difficult situation. Developmentally, a young child does not yet have a firm understanding of abstract concepts or cause and effect. Young children focus on how things affect them, because they and their primary relationships (family members, caregivers) are the center of their world. They worry about upsetting the people in their lives by doing something wrong. For those reasons, it is important to talk about big issues in a reassuring and sensitive way, letting them know they are safe.

  • Limit access to age-inappropriate subjects:  Choose TV and other media that is age appropriate. Turn off or mute the TV when inappropriate subjects are on when your child is present.
  • Find out what your child knows: Ask your child what they think happened before providing information or explanations.
  • Use vocabulary, ideas, and relationships that they’re familiar with: If possible, recall a recent, similar situation from your child’s life that they can relate to, such as, “The man stole something. Do you remember when someone took your toy?” Break down issues into the simplest terms. For violent crimes, you could say, “Someone used a gun to hurt people.”
  • Address feelings: Say, “It’s okay to feel scared or sad. These feelings are natural, and we all feel them.” Use basic terms for feelings, such as “mad,” “sad,” “afraid,” “happy,” and “surprised.” Young children can understand emotions, but they don’t totally understand mental illness. You can say that someone was angry too much or confused too much and needed extra help.
  • Be reassuring: Say, “You’re safe; our family is safe.” Hugs and snuggling also reassure young children that they are safe. Communicate that someone is in charge: “Mommy and Daddy will make sure nothing bad happens to our family,” or “The police will catch the bad guy.”

Because kids in this age group have more media access, they are exposed to age-inappropriate content more often. Younger kids in this age range may still be working through what’s real and what’s pretend. They are developing abstract thinking and gaining life experiences, working to understand difficult subjects and different perspectives. As tweens, they are developing more independence, entering puberty, and interacting more with media. There is an increased risk of your child encountering violent video games, pornography, distressing news, and hate speech. Your child needs to be able to talk to you without feeling shame or embarrassment. This is your opportunity to show your child that you are sensitive to their emotions and personality and that you want them to be able to talk to you about anything and everything. Some tips:

  • Wait for the right moment: Your child will likely come to you if they have heard or seen something that upsets them, seeking your guidance and support. You can monitor their mood and help them decide if they want to talk about it, but if they don’t bring it up, don’t feel you have to broach difficult subjects until they ask. 
  • Find out what they know: When he or she is ready to talk to you, ask your child what they’ve heard or seen or if their friends are talking about something. Answer questions simply and directly, but try not to over-explain.
  • Address Their Curiosity: If your child finds age-inappropriate material online, it is time to find content that will help them to understand the subject matter in an age-appropriate way. For instance, “online pornography is something that some adults look at. But it’s not about love or romance and it can give you the wrong idea about sex. If you want to learn more about sex, I can give you some books to look at and we can talk more.” If your child wants to explore serious topics, such as mass shootings, hate crimes, or racism in more depth than you can provide, work together to find news resources that offer current events written for kids. This is an opportunity to encourage critical thinking. Ask open-ended questions to get your child thinking more deeply about a serious topic, such as “Why do you think that?” or “Do you think other people view this the same way we do?”
  • Look for positives: When you talk with your child about a difficult experience or subject, this is an opportunity to reinforce positivity and take appropriate action. If your child is troubled by something in the news or something they witnessed, talk through possible actions or solutions and work together to find ways to help. If your child has personally experienced something negative, reinforce that you are happy they talked to you about it, that they are safe, and that you will work together to resolve the issue. Talk through possible actions and solutions. If it is possible and appropriate, decide the next steps together. 

The Good News

The good news is that the more you talk with your child, the easier it gets to have conversations about difficult subjects. When you are talking with your child, consider this: If they are talking about an issue and asking questions (no matter what the subject matter is), they deserve a straightforward, age-appropriate answer. If you don’t immediately have the answer, that’s okay. It gives you the chance to strengthen the bond with your child by learning and working together.

Want to learn more about navigating the media-saturated world we live in? A good resource for all things related to children and media usage is Common Sense Media.

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