Death. Sex. Divorce. Abuse. Money. Racism. Caste. Puberty. Misogyny. Homosexuality.
These are just some of the really uncomfortable subjects to explain to children. But precisely for that reason, their information on these topics, need to come from you. Else, there is a scary risk of long-term misdirection. We tend to believe in an innocent world for our children, but the facts are that after the age of five or six, their exposure and comprehension of the world opens up exponentially.
The reasons are simple – verbal communication with friends is now uninhibited, a lot more time is spent without your supervision and access to the internet becomes more independent. Opinions are being developed regardless. So as a parent, you need to put on your adult pants, deal with your ‘my little baby’ cringes and make sure you give them a healthy set of guidelines to build their adulthood on.
Let me give you small examples of exposure that kids face as they grow:
- Girls playing in skirts or dresses and suddenly being taunted by innocent but misguided peers that their ‘panty’ is showing.
- Kids playing doctor-patient and along with illness, death is acted out by a child.
- One child telling another about parents getting a divorce.
- Catching a sit-com on TV where a same-sex couple is shown.
- An older boy showing porn to a younger one.
- An older sibling talking about her period.
- Refusing a beggar at a traffic jam.
All these are real incidents, commonplace and happening to your kids as they grow. The important question is, how has your child internalized these early exposures? Scroll down to find out how you can approach this situation.
We seldom realize that lifelong fears and insecurities could be created if we don’t course-correct. Fear of death, gender inferiority, prejudice, fear of sex or intimacy, fear of parents separating, the arrogance of class and race – this is the kind of psychological baggage that can develop without your intervention.
We all know how hard it is to look at young and impressionable faces and discuss difficult and sometimes unsavoury topics but, in order to keep kids safe and clear-headed, it must be done.
Here are some tips for talking to your kids about any uncomfortable issues without making it traumatic for them:
1. Don’t over-share: How much they need to know should be judged as per age and sensibility. A six-year-old probably does not need as much information as a ten-year-old. So if your six years old wants to know how they were born, “from mummy’s tummy” is probably enough of an answer.
2. Keep your tone matter-of-fact: Children form opinions as much by your tone and manner as by your words. Sometimes the former is far more important. Saying “you don’t need to know” or giggling uncomfortably or telling them to be quiet if they ask questions is definitely a terrible idea. What you will have told them by such behaviour is that these are scary issues. Keep your body language relaxed, give them cues of normality.
3 Ask questions: When kids feel uncomfortable, their instinctive defence is to hide it from you. Their emotional response is always to feel at fault. So it is really crucial that you find moments of playtime or conversation where they may draw or share experiences. Don’t grill them, but make sure that they always feel comfortable talking to you. Ask questions about their questions, “Why did you think of that?” or “How did you learn about this?”
4. Tell the truth: This is probably the most important aspect of long-term belief development. Your kids will grow up to understand reality and remember that you lied to them. Keep the extent of details age-appropriate but be truthful. It is better to eventually say “you will understand more when you become ten or twelve” than to lie or make up a story.
5. Use analogies: Sometimes kids are really too small to cope with the big facts of life. So if topics come up that are hard to tackle, use analogies and stories. Watch something on the internet. Talk about seeds growing into plants. Use some of their favourite characters, take help from books and movies or give examples of your own childhood – make it all more normal and relatable.
Bottom-line, try to steer your kids towards knowledge, logic and open-mindedness. Let’s raise mindful kids who will become self-thinking, compassionate, and courageous adults.
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