Limits: Don't be afraid to have talks surrounding topics such as dating and sex with your child. *MCT Photo
Limits: Don't be afraid to have talks surrounding topics such as dating and sex with your child. *MCT Photo

Some of the tough conversations we have to have with our children can be about some of the most cringe-worthy subjects.

From sex to drugs, peer pressure and teen pregnancy, it can be hard to open up to teens about these topics.

But when we’ve already established a loving and open relationship with our children, those conversations may come a little easier, according to Dr Sandy De Silva, director of services at Family Centre and a clinical psychologist.

“Talk to them, talk to them, talk to them,” says Dr De Silva. “Do it with open-ended questions and help them feel safe and secure coming to you when they need to talk.”

Dr De Silva says that as parents, we know our children best and we can use that knowledge to help us open up conversations that we may not feel comfortable talking about.

“Never underestimate the expertise you have on your own kids. Just knowing the best approaches with them and what they are interested in are some of the best ingredients.”

First, setting the scene can be a good place to start, she says.

“You want to pull upon what you know that gets the best out of your child,” she explains. “What are their interests? If they like going out for dinner, take them out to a restaurant. Or if their interest is motorcross racing, make a day together with them. Paying attention and showing you are interested in them and their interests will help make them feel at ease.”

‘Big talk’

She adds, “Instead of having the ‘big talk’-approach, look for opportunities in everyday conversations to develop a dialogue with your kids.”

Second, Dr De Silva says, keep the lines of communication open and be prepared for what you may learn about your child.

“Anticipate that you are going to bring different thoughts and feelings to the conversation,” she advises. “Particularly with a sensitive topic you have to remember that you have been likely preparing yourself for a while. You are already clear about your values surrounding the topic, have practised the lines and have decided what values you are going to reinforce. Then, when you approach your teen, they may not have had that much time to prepare their thoughts.”

Give them the option to have time to think about their own beliefs but recognize that some of the topics may elicit strong emotions.

“Go into the conversation knowing that your child may react,” adds Dr De Silva. “Use your own coping skills for self-regulating and keep yourself in check.

“Raw emotions are okay and it’s okay to give them some time to get all those emotions out. Then make sure to normalize it. Keep a sense of humour and don’t be afraid to talk about your own discomfort about the conversation.”

Dr De Silva says that the way we as parents react when discussing difficult conversations is a great way to show children how to manage future confrontations.

And, she adds: “Never not let the communication happen because you’re afraid of how your child will act.

“Avoiding these conversations sends the message that these topics are taboo and sends negative signals to your child. If you don’t speak to them they will get the information from some place else.”

Once things have settled down, and if your child wants time to think about their feelings about the conversation, Dr De Silva says make sure to follow up.

“Consistency shows that you care enough and shows them that you are serious about the conversation. Part of them will be looking for you to come back and open up that communication with them,” she says.

In the end, she says it’s important to establish some rules and limits surrounding issues such as sex, drugs and alcohol.

“Have a greater awareness for the topics and reach some rules for your child.”