Getting Comfortable with Tough Talk
The world is now saturated with events that have caused conflict, heartache and strife. From a deadly pandemic and environmental destruction to a global movement for racial justice, we have certainly experienced a fair share of world-shifting events. Many incidents and experiences not only impact the world on a global, national & local level, but even at a very basic individual level. The effects eventually trickle down into our homes, and into our lives.
As adults, we are equipped with the bandwidth and tools to take stock of what is happening around us, and interpret it in a way that makes sense. We discuss it with our loved ones till the cows come home and examine various perspectives. We are able to come to terms with the implications of the events that take place, and use tools to convert that understanding into some sort of action we can take to help even in some small way. Do our children have the ability to think the same way? Of course not! As parents, we make it our life’s mission to form a protective barrier around them, and to ward away any harm. But how much of external circumstances are under our control? Can we promise to keep our children safe their entire lives? In an ideal world – yes. We do however need to come to terms with the fact that we will not be around them 24/7, so empowering them to deal with situations independently is crucial. This ability does not emerge overnight, but with deep conditioning from the time they are as young as preschoolers.
As parents, perhaps our biggest challenge lies in helping our children interpret what they see & hear in a manner that they understand. Especially when the effects of external events invade our own homes, which they inevitably do. For example, the chaos that COVID-19 unleashed is not all visible to the naked eye. The impact on the mental health of both youth and grown-ups alike have been tremendous. Many children around the world have had to watch helplessly as members of their family have succumbed to this pandemic in ways they never imagined. How do we help them comprehend everything happening around them?
When our parents were busy raising us, there was no trace of discussions about child safety, social media pressures, suicide, mental health, divorce, sex and so on, all which the world we are living in today highly demands. When Netflix and Amazon Prime shows are centered around these topics which impact our youth in countless ways, how can we not? To me, having discussions with our children on these topics are as vital as the air we breathe…. even if we may find it uncomfortable. Many of us aren’t doing it. So, the question remains – why not? And is it uncomfortable for us, or for them?
Through an increasing number of insightful chats with friends, I have begun to understand that perhaps the hesitation lies in that conversation will spark consistent thoughts on that particular topic in a negative manner, instead of an empowering one. Or for reasons like not knowing how to approach it, Indian culture frowns upon such things being discussed openly, or that children of a certain age are not old enough yet to be exposed to “those sorts of things”.
Yesterday, I re-posted a brutally honest post, to which I received multiple acknowledgements and agreements. The lesson for me was simple – conversations are key.
” Having a talk with your kids about sex doesn’t make them have sex. Having a talk about llamas doesn’t make them llamas. Having a talk with your kids about suicide won’t make them suicidal. Having a talk with your kids about mental illness doesn’t give them mental illness. It does however, give them the tools to help recognize things that might otherwise confuse or terrify them. It may help them to recognize things in themselves or their friends. And that can save a life. “– Jenny Lawson
I truly believe that no parent is an expert in anything. We can’t be. We are all learning from the moment we give birth, throughout our parenting journey. Trial and error plays a prominent role in our lives, and I think this extends to the conversations we have with our children as well. The first stepping stone is to actually have the conversation, in the way that works for you. And, if not now, then when? If not us, then who?
There are two areas that we have addressed openly with my elder son Dev, who will be 7 this year – Child Abuse Awareness & Prevention, and Death & Grief. I enrolled Dev in a workshop curated by a friend and Child Safety Educator, when he was 5 years old. Needless to say, we as parents need this workshop as much as our children do. However, I understood it was not enough for us to arm ourselves with the knowledge and tools to protect our children, but they themselves need to be more aware of people in their surroundings, and what are the actions they can take in case a stranger or even someone they know, is making them feel unsafe. Today, Dev is able to tell me when he feels uncomfortable around someone, or if he doesn’t like being hugged by a specific person. I take what he says at face-value. He also has a list of ‘trust-worthy’ individuals at school whom he feels comfortable confiding in, if something ever bothers him. Our conversations with him about death have also been transparent ones, resulting in him having a straightforward view on a person’s life-cycle, the ‘why’ behind death, the permanency of it, but most importantly equipping him with a few tools on how to manage his emotions.
I worked very closely with some inspiring, curious & intuitive teenagers over the last year on a mental health related project, and I am confident that I learned more from them than they did from me. My takeaway was this – if you grow up being sensitized to experiences that can make or break you as a human being, you possess that much more of an ability to help yourself and others around you.
Direct verbal conversations may not be every parent’s cup of tea. There are no magic words. Conversations can even take place through reading related books, activity books, art, music or any other method that may work for parents. As long as those exchanges take place in some form, and talking about mental health, death etc., becomes the norm and not the exception.
As time flies with my boys growing up at lightning speed, one of many hopes is that I am able to protect them, by empowering them with knowledge and tools they will need to lead healthy & full lives.