How to Talk About Difficult Things with Small Children

Today, we want to offer some tips on how to talk about difficult things with small children, specifically those between the ages of two and six.
How to Talk About Difficult Things with Small Children

Last update: 30 August, 2020

One of the most complicated tasks when it comes to raising kids is talking about difficult things with small children. It’s hard enough to explain why their favorite stuffed animals have to go in the wash… Or why kids at school are sometimes mean.

But when it comes to talking about really important issues, it can seem impossible to find the right words. For example, when you need to address subjects like racism, violence, and the like.

Communication with small children today

We live in an era of constant notifications, video transmissions, and 24-hour news coverage. Because of this, children are exposed to very serious subjects from a young age, and it’s important to address this challenge head-on.

Addressing difficult things with small children makes children feel safe and strengthens the parent-child bond. What’s more, it teaches them about the world. When you show them how to collect and interpret information, ask questions, and verify sources, they become critical thinkers.

It’s always hard to face problems in the world that we can’t resolve. But by educating our children in knowledge, compassion and strong character, they’ll have all the tools they need to make things better.

A father and son talking outside.

It’s always a good idea to consider a child’s age and developmental stage as your guide when starting conversations. This will help you address the information in a different way as children grow older.

Understanding how children perceive the world

It’s important to have some understanding of how children perceive the world in each phase of their development. This will help you give them information in a way that’s appropriate for their age. Of course, each child brings their own sensitivities, temperament, experience, and other individual characteristics to the conversations.

Therefore, use your best criteria regarding how your child tends to digest information in order to determine how deep you should go. The tips that we’ll provide below are general guidelines for talking about any subject with children between the ages of two and six. What’s more, they follow the guidelines of child development.

Small children lack the life experience needed to comprehend the elements involved in complex and difficult issues. At the same time, they lack a firm understanding of abstract concepts as well as cause and effect.

Small children see themselves and their main relationships – mom, dad, siblings, grandparents, family pets, etc. – as the center of their world. Therefore, they focus on how things affect this inner circle. With all of this in mind, how can we talk about difficult things will small children?

Talking about difficult things with small children between the ages of two and six

During this stage, children are very sensitive to the emotional states of their parents. Therefore, little ones may worry they’ve done something to upset them. As a result, it can be hard to explain big problems and talk about difficult things with small children. With that in mind, we suggest the following:

  • Avoid exposing your children to the news. Do what you can to limit your children’s exposure to subjects that are inappropriate for their age. For example, turn off the TV or put it on mute. Only allow them to watch content designed for their age group.
  • Calm your children with words and gestures. You can tell them things like: “You’re safe. Mom and dad are safe. Our family is safe.” What’s more, never doubt the power of hugs and snuggles.
  • Deal with feelings, both your own and your child’s. Say things like, “It’s okay to be afraid, scared, or confused. These feelings are natural and we all experience them at times.” Also, try to say things like, “I’m upset, but not because of you.”
  • Discover how much they know. Children don’t always understand the problem very well. So, ask them what they think happened before offering any explanations.
  • Break problems down into simpler terms. For example, regarding violent crimes, you can say: “Someone used a weapon to hurt someone else.” For hate crimes, try saying something like, “There are some people that still don’t receive fair and equal treatment.
  • Keep your own prejudice and bias in mind. We all have them. Use terms like “man”, “woman, “girl” and “boy.” And, at the same time, avoid terms like “chubby boy”, “homeless woman”, “pretty girl”, “white man”, etc. Avoid referring to people by their ethnicity, sexual identity, weight, economic status, etc., unless it’s relevant to the discussion.
A family conversation.

When talking about difficult things with small children, keep your their level of understanding in mind

Use vocabulary, ideas, and relationships that your children are familiar with. For example, remind them of a recent and similar situation in their lives that they can relate to. You can say things like, “A man stole something. Do you remember when someone took your backpack at school by accident?”

Use basic terms for feelings, such as “angry”, “sad”, “frightened”, “happy” and “surprised.” Small children understand emotions, but they don’t totally comprehend mental illnesses. So, for example, you can say that someone was angry and confused and needed the help of a professional.

What’s more, to talk about difficult things with small children, you need to reassure them. Remind them that someone is protecting them and making them feel safe in their environment. For example, you can say things like “Mom and dad will make sure that nothing happens to you or our family.” Or, “The police will catch the guy who did it.”

Speak to kids in simpler terms

As you can see, there are a number of resources that you can use when talking about difficult things with small children. Just remember to keep their age and maturity level in mind at all times and apply methods that adapt to your children and their circumstances.

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