Mamas on Bedrest: How Do You Talk With Your Children About Difficult Topics?

March 23rd, 2012

How do you talk with your children about difficult topics?

In light of the shooting death of 17 year old Trayvon Martin, I have been thinking A LOT about how to talk with my kids about touchy subjects. At 9 and 6 years old, I don’t want to overwhelm them, yet I want to inform and educate them. Certain topics are easy. For example, a couple of months ago we had a really in depth discussion about where babies come from and how they get into their mommy’s tummies which lead us into a talk about sex. I was amazed at how much my children already knew and understood! But what I found is that the calmer I remained and the more directly I answered their questions, the better things went.

I asked a therapist friend of mine, Katie Malinski, MSW, LCSW how best to approach sensitive topics with your children and she had the following tips to offer:

1. The best way to address sensitive topics is directly. Don’t try to avoid the issues. Kids are smart and will know something is wrong. If you feel ill equipped to discuss the topic alone, enlist the aid of a good family therapist to help you and your children understand the situation.

2. Your children are going to take their cues from you. If you overreact or act as if the issue is a really big deal (even if it is!!) then your children will have a similar reaction. If you can approach the topic calmly, then your children will gather, from you, that the situation is not catastrophic and that you (the parents) have everything under control.

I am going to add, or actually reiterate my point about being direct and not overwhelming your children with information. When my son asked me about babies, it stemmed from the fact that 3 of  his classmate’s moms were pregnant. His class was all abuzz about when the babies would come out and how life would change for his friends. When he said that the babies would be “cut out” (I have told my children that I had c-section deliveries) I had to explain to him that that is not the way most that babies come into the world. I then explained that babies come through a hole below where mama’s go pee.

“Oh the bahina!” he pipes up.

I nearly crashed as I was driving and began laughing. I told him that the correct name is vagina and yes, that is where babies come out.

“Do you have one?” He asked.

“Yes”.

“Does Sissy?”

“Yes”

“So can Sissy have a baby?”

(Sweating) “Not yet, she has to become a grown up first and get married.”

I didn’t bother with the whole menstrual cycle issue, how young girls can get pregnant or the pregnancy outside of wedlock issues because he didn’t ask about them. He wanted to know about mommies and I was fine keeping the conversation there for the time being.

Of course the conversation turned to, “How do babies get into mommies’ tummies?”

(Sweating again) “When mommies and daddies love each other very much, they often decide to make a baby. Sperm from the daddy joins with an egg from the mommy and a baby is made and grows in the mommy’s tummy.”

“So how does the sperm get into the mommy?” my son asks.

“When mommy and daddy decide to make a baby, the daddy puts his penis in the mommy’s vagina and puts the sperm inside the mommy to meet the egg and make the baby.”

There was quite a long pause and I thought that I was done. I was quite proud of myself for getting that far and not totally confusing my children. Finally my son pipes up,

“So daddies go pee pee in mommies?”

After I busted out laughing, I explained that while sperm comes through the same area, it’s not that daddies go pee pee in mommies, it’s a different mechanism. With that we arrived at our lunch destination and the topic has been shelved ever since.

I share this story with you so that you can see, and I can remind myself, answer the questions our children ask of us. As we all know, there was so much not said in this conversation. But my son was asking about mommies and daddies and rather than complicate the issue with menstrual cycles, teen pregnancy, sex without creating babies, sex outside of marriage, etc…I answered his questions and we both moved on.

The day will come when I have to fully explain racism to my children and I hope to be able to take the same calm approach. I doubt we’ll have the funny anecdotes we had as we discussed how babies get into mommies’ tummies, but I am hoping and praying that as we delve into this topic, and yes we have already had a few discussions about skin color and why our hair is different from our classmates hair, etc… I will be able to remain calm, answer their questions honestly and rationally and also educate them in a way that doesn’t scare them or further confuse them.

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