September 6, 2018
How to Talk to Your Children About Death, Sex, and Money
These conversations may be difficult, but they can help undo destructive cultural messages
By Wendy Mogel
It’s the end of an ordinary day and your child is home from school. You ask a few typical questions: “How was school? How did you do on the spelling test? Who did you sit with at lunch?” They mutter something noncommittal – their school day is old news.
Are you eager to rehash your day at work or at home? No – it’s too dull. Every adult dives into conversations with other adults about the topics we specifically avoid talking about with children, and these can include death, sex and money.
By avoiding these topics, we risk leaving our children inside a dull void that they fill up with entertainment and games where kills equal power and death is often reversible. Or with the alternative reality of online pornography where children learn fictions like: ‘Women have no hair anywhere but on their heads and you can do whatever you want with them – any time – and they like it. A lot.’ They can become susceptible to wily advertisers who exploit the natural human drive to hunt, gather, collect, display and signal status by enlisting children as their best salespeople.
Difficult conversations have long-term benefits
Parents have long been taught that if you tell children about sex, they’ll run off and do it. If you talk about death, they’ll be scared. Be candid about money? We don’t even do this with ourselves.
Try to motivate yourself to chat about trickier topics from early on. Conversations about sex, death, and money may be difficult, but they have many benefits and help undo destructive cultural messages. They also help you have some fun with a creative and challenging conversational partner.
Be interesting and interested. Wake up to opportunity when your child says things like:
Noah told me he slept with Annabelle.
Lulu’s mum has no hair on her head anymore. She was wearing a scarf, but you could tell.
Why do you have to go to work? Sophie’s mum doesn’t work.
To help your child talk openly, the first thing to do is just listen. Let them tell you what they know, what they wonder and what they worry about. Then, answer any misperceptions they may have with respect:
I’m not surprised to hear that, a lot of people think that way, but actually….
Interesting. Hmm…How did you hear about that?
Are you curious about anything else?
Does my answer make sense to you?
If you ever feel shy about asking me a question or telling me about something that happened you can write me a little note and slip it under my door. Then I’ll write back.
Books can help start conversations
When your kids are young you can talk more freely about sex, death, and money than you can when they are self-conscious, prickly pre-teens.
Take advantage of a wonderful cultural development: the blooming literature for children at each age level about reproduction, body changes, death, grief and painful episodes in history.
Use media as a jumping point
School them in media literacy. Make a game out of showing them the tracks of the hidden persuaders. You can join forces as detectives without being snarky or superior. For example:
‘See how this car ad shows happy looking people riding down a beautiful mountain road, and the announcer says: “No payments or interest for five years”? Let’s see if we can read the tiny letters at the bottom of the screen.’
If your child asks a question that makes you nervous, pause and reflect before you respond. You can reply with something like: ‘Now that is a very good question and I want to give you a very good answer, so I’ll need a little time to think it over, then I’ll get back to you.’ Be sure to do this before they ask again.
Avoid long, preachy, let’s-get-it-over-with downloads of information and warnings. Instead, chat while moving – for example while driving or walking somewhere – or at your child’s bedside. Launch a conversation based on a song, a poem, a picture or your family history; how you first knew you were in love, how the child’s grandparents met.
Some questions may require a different approach
But don’t feel obligated to answer every single question with candour and facts. If your young child asks you about something that feels a bit too personal to you, such as: “When was the first time you had sex?” remember there is no need to feel guilty about telling them this is something you want to keep private. Your child never has a problem saying no to you.
September 6, 2018