Healthy Communication with Your Kids about Touchy Topics
by Katie M. Reid
“Because I said so.”
“I don’t want to hear that word in this house.”
“You did what?!”
Maybe you heard statements like these growing up, or maybe they are commonplace in your household now. But they are not effective when it comes to fostering healthy communication with our kids and helping them open up about their struggles. In an “anything goes” culture, we need a new approach for addressing questionable behavior and unpacking sensitive subjects.
When our kids feel threatened, a fight or flight response is likely. This response is a good thing when it comes to matters of safety; however, this response can also be present when your child feels threatened by your rules, restrictions, and impending consequences. When this response is evoked, rebellion, secrecy, or a battle of words may ensue.
In matters of the body, sex, intimacy, how can we parent from a place of respect instead of threat, especially when it comes to these touchy topics, so that our kids aren’t driven to fight or flight?
Obviously, safety is important when it comes to these topics, but what if your conversations surrounding them weren’t led by scare tactics but were candid, honest, and included quality questions to help your child think for himself?
The goal of most parents is to help their children make honorable choices that align with their values. We can point the way to what we believe is right, but ultimately, we hope our kids will choose it for themselves. When they are forced to adopt what we believe is honorable, they might temporarily comply to avoid consequences, they might flat-out rebel, or they might adopt our views as their own. But just talking at them, or talking louder or talking more often, won’t necessarily ensure they adopt our values. When the mind is operating out of fight or flight because it feels threatened, it is hard to make level-headed decisions. And we want our kids to be thinking clearly about these important matters.
Candid conversations and quality questions are a dynamic duo when it comes to engaging your child’s mind, so they are not operating solely in fight or flight during difficult, uncomfortable discussions, but are operating with an organized mind.
Jami Amerine, author and co-founder of the e-workbook, “Honorable U,” explains it like this, “When the mind can’t make sense of a situation, it makes a situation out of the senseless.” We want our children to make decisions from a calm, cool, and collected space, but they can’t do that if they feel like they are being chased by a bear in their living room.
We want our children to clearly understand the sacredness of intimacy, but if we lead with growls of, “Don’t do it. It’s bad,” we are doing them a disservice. God has given intimacy as a gift. It is a good thing that He has placed within protective parameters for our good and the good of others.
We want our kids to view us as the loving authority on touchy topics, so they will come to us with their questions and struggles. In order for this to happen, we need to practice our “not shocked” face, and be willing to talk with them, not just at them, about uncomfortable things with honesty, grace, clarity, and gentleness. Listening well is a key to helping our children stay open in their communication.
Many young people are abandoning healthy principles regarding the body, sex, and intimacy because the method by which purity was presented, and/or the interpretation of how it was presented, felt like a threat imposed upon them instead of an invitation to decide what they wanted to own long-term. When we choose to own something for ourselves, it is a great motivator for behavior. The same is true for our children.
This generation is able to live honorably, even in the face of great temptation and challenges. They are able to treat their bodies, others, and the gift of intimacy with respect. They are able to be restored even if they wander.
Laying aside threats and moving forward with a grace-based approach includes instructing and listening, praying and practicing your “not shocked” face. These are key factors in healthy communication with your kids about touchy topics.
It is possible to navigate conversations about the body, sex, and intimacy in a non-threatening way that makes a lasting impact on your kids. Engage your children’s mind in the process as you help them think more deeply about their “why” regarding these topics, so they will move out of fight or flight mode and make decisions from a calm and collected mind.
Here are several quality questions to offer your child. Consider sharing about a situation from your own life by way of example, as you get the conversation started:
- When faced with tempting situations, ask yourself, “Why am I choosing to make this decision? Is it worth it?” Think of a situation in your own life and ask yourself questions about it.
- What is the motivation behind my actions? Am I looking for a sense of belonging, significance, attention? What is my “why?”
- What do I want to own long term? Am I making decisions now that will propel me toward or away from my greater goal?
Katie M. Reid is the author of Made Like Martha: Good News for the Woman Who Gets Things Done. She is a mother of five children, ranging in age from 5-17, with a Master’s Degree in Education. She is the co-founder of Change Your Mind, Change Everything and co-creator of the revolutionary e-course, SocialWisedU.org which helps parents prepare, protect, and empower their kids online, and the powerful e-workbook, HonorableU.org which equips parents to confidently navigate conversations about the body, sex, and intimacy with their kids.
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