Over the past few weeks I have had so many conversations with parents regarding how to talk with children about the upsetting and chaotic events taking place in the world. In the midst of the pandemic, families are also struggling with anguish about racial injustice and inequality, climate change, uncivil and unkind behavior, and a host of other concerns. As a parent, how does one talk about these difficult issues with children of different ages and temperaments?
One place to start is to spend some time defining your family philosophy or vision. Consider the list below, and ask yourself, what are the most important values that I want to teach my child(ren)? While many of the principles listed may be appealing, to get started you can identify the 3-5 values that are your top priority.
Awareness of/respect for cultural differences Love of Learning
Awareness of/respect for individual differences Loyalty
Connectedness with others Openness
Independence Will power
Kindness Willingness to try new things
This list is by no means exhaustive – I offer it as a way to get you started. Once you have spent some time defining what is most important to you, consider the following questions:
How does our family communicate about the things that are important to us? Simply by using words that define important family beliefs, you give your children information about your family’s priorities. For example:
- “I noticed that you shared your popcorn with your brother. That was really generous.”
- “I realize you’re tired of being on Zoom, but we told your aunt that we would talk with her today and in our family being reliable is important – we follow through on our commitments.”
- “This afternoon we are going to buy some food to donate to the food pantry. Some families are having trouble paying for food right now and in our family we always try to help people who are in need.”
- “I know a lot of people are watching that video clip. Why do you think it’s so popular? How do you feel about the language they are using?”
How am I modeling our family’s beliefs for my children in the ways that I behave?
What values are my children learning through exposure to screens and social media?
How can I process what my children see on screens so that they make sense of the world in a way that is consistent with our family's beliefs?
What values were taught or modeled for me in my childhood?
If you are parenting with a partner:
- How are my priorities similar to the those of my partner? How do we differ?
- How can we work towards agreement or respect our differences – and how should we model or communicate this to our children?
Defining your family philosophy in this way can be particularly helpful when you talk with your children about the chaos in the world. Whether you are discussing a bully on the playground or the behavior of public figures, you can frame these conversations through the lens of kindness, honesty, self-respect, or whatever values are of primary importance to you and your family. While this approach won’t provide you with answers in the moment, I hope you will find it to be a helpful frame as you navigate complicated conversations.