I’ve happily left the diapers-and-bottles behind, and I’ve entered the parenting stage that involves a lot more talking about the important issues in my kids’ lives — and in the world around them.
As hard as it can be sometimes, and I’ve had some incredibly difficult conversations with my own kids this past year in particular, there’s something really special about this phase of parenting older kids.
The ability to sitting with your kids, open up your hearts to them, and in return, hear what’s really on their minds is a privilege, and one we don’t take lightly. So we wanted to share some of our favorite tips and resources for those many hard talks parents will have with their kids.
From systemic racism to mental health, the fear of school shootings to sexuality to the importance of financial literacy, here are some tips and sources worth bookmarking for all those conversations that will eventually need to happen.
But our biggest tip, which we go back to over and over again, is that this is never just one talk.
We all need to be having safe, ongoing dialog with our kids, and keep the communication channels open so that our kids will always feel comfortable coming back to you when they need you, about anything at all.
1. Mental Health
With the popularity of 13 Reasons Why this past year, Liz put together an amazing list of the best resources to help us talk with our kids about depression and suicidal thoughts. If you feel this is something your child, or one of their friends, is struggling with, I cannot stress how important it is to reach out and talk to them. Let them know you’re someone who is always available, any time of day or night, without judgement. (Or let them know it’s okay to talk to another parent, grandparent, teacher or trusted adult too.) It’s actually important to have these conversations pretty early on. However if they are personally struggling, we highly recommend downloading the notOK app to their device with them. It just might be the lifeline they need.
In fact, our new Cool Mom Picks Book Club is kicking things off with Under Pressure, by Lisa Damour, which focuses on the stress and anxiety girls in particular are feeling these days — though it’s a great book for parents raising boys too, according to Kristen, who is the mom of both.
I’m convinced that no matter where your kids go to school, from your neighborhood elementary school to a fancy private school — and even homeschool — there’s no way to completely insulate your kids from bullying. But keeping an honest dialogue going with your kids about what’s happening in their social circles can prevent an encounter with bullying from becoming a spiral into depression or other issues.
We have some fantastic resources for resources for talking with your kids about bullying, both IRL and online, as well as how to prevent and deal with bullying you’re seeing — even if your own child is the bully.
If you need more backup, we’ve shared 8 amazing online bullying resources, though we hope you never need to use them. And since we have so many daughters among us here at Cool Mom Picks, we’ve also shared info about the mean girl phenomenon and how to build resilience and strength in girls.
Related: How to be a bare minimum parent
3. Prejudice, Racism and Bigotry
Photo: Oliver Cole on Unsplash
We believe kids are never too young to start learning about inclusivity and acceptance — as we say over and over, kids understand love easily. It’s hate, that’s taught.
Start by building a home library of books, movies, and music that celebrates a diverse range of characters and experiences. Then, once your kids are old enough to start understanding the concepts of fairness and compassion, read through this collection of children’s books that are great starting points for talking about prejudice. It’s a great introduction for kids to start to understand and embrace those who are different from us — a social skill our kids benefit from as young as possible
Of course, I’m writing this from the perspective of a white mom, which means it’s especially important for me to talk to . my kids about racial injustice and why there’s no such thing as “colorblind.” (Children of color already growing up knowing this based on lived experience.) So my thirteen-year-old and I are reading and talking through To Kill a Mockingbird together, and the discussions we’ve had are so enlightening and encouraging. Watching movies like Black Panther or watching Childish Gambino’s “This is America” music video together have even kept this conversation going as a regular theme in my home.
If you want more tips, read what Liz has to say about teaching our kids about equality and racism, especially if it’s not something they see immediately around them.
But remember, bigotry and discrimination is about more than race. So we’ve also got tons of beautifully curated lists to help parents start these hard talks with kids:
– children’s books about different religions
– children’s books about Hispanic heritage
– YA books about race and books about Black history
– books about women’s struggles
– children’s books about Asian and Pacific Island heritage
– children’s books about LGBTQ families
– children’s books about other countries and cultures
– children’s books about the Jewish history and the Holocaust
– children’s books about children with special needs
We’ve also written about why inclusiveness in kids’ toys and inclusiveness in T shows and inclusiveness in books is something we need more of, to help create a more diverse and inclusive society in general.
4. Black youth and police brutality
While there are a lot of issues around racial prejudice, we think that his topic in particular deserves its own category.
Case in point: there’s a children’s book entirely about police violence toward People of Color, called Momma, Did You Hear the News? by Sanya Whittaker Gragg. It’s absolutely tragic that we need this in this country, but we do.
If you’re raising Black boys and girls right now, Gragg’s book can help you navigate this scary, sensitive subject in a way that clearly outlines the problem without making them lose sleep in the process. (Even if you are.) However, it’s an important book for all children, because I bet most white kids don’t even know about “The Talk.”
If you have kids who are old enough to drive, this USA Today article about 6 things Black men tell their sons about traffic stops based on dad J. Drew Lanham’s suggestions, is bluntly helpful. And as the parent of a white child with plenty of Black friends who will be driving him around soon, we’re also talking with him about these steps.
If you’re not a person of color, but you want to raise kids who are thoughtful and aware of what’s going on in the world around you, you can read some of the excellent essays on the #BlackLivesMatter movement Liz rounded up during the horrible week that both Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were murdered.
Or, if music is an avenue that helps your kids understand, then watch and discuss the This Is America music video by Childish Gambino with them, and use the discussion points in this post to help your kids see what white people been missing for too long.
I’m also a huge advocate of reading books written from the first-hand perspective of those people we want to understand better, and this list of YA novels for tweens and teens — including Angie Thomas’s powerful and popular The Hate U Give in which the main character’s life takes a turn after witnessing a friend shot in a traffic stop — is a great starting point for discussions.
5. Natural Disasters
Photo: UNICEF Disaster Relief
From the California wildfires to the Houston and Puerto Rican hurricanes, to our own devastating floods here in Nashville when my son was a newborn, natural disasters are in the news so frequently these days. And they can be terrifying, especially to young children; they’re completely out of our control, they’re loud and noisy, and they can take away all the thingns we find comforting. So yeah, they’re scary for kids to understand and difficult to process.
But we have put together some really smart, practical tips about how to talk to your kids about tragedies and natural disasters in a way that’s reassuring and fact-based.
I especially appreciate the tips for preparing your kids for a potential disaster, so that if one (heaven forbid) does happen, they’ll feel prepared and know what to do.
6. Money and Financial Literacy
Our kids are learning their fractions and algebra theorems, but one thing they don’t get much of in school is practical, day-to-day financial advice.
We’d start the conversation with these 6 basics kids should know to be financially smart. But before you make any promises to your kids about allowance or Venmo accounts, listen to Liz and Kristen’s terrific podcast conversation with financial expert and NY Times bestselling author Beth Kobliner about how to make your kid a money genius. (Even if you aren’t one yourself.)
It will give you a great starting point to help your kids establish good financial habits, and think about the concepts of saving, spending, and giving, as soon as they’re old enough to enjoy counting how much money they have in their piggy banks.
7. Social Media and Good Digital Citizenship
If you’re a Cool Mom Tech reader, you know that we consider The Tech Talk the new Sex Talk, and that every parent needs to be having it early, and often! In fact, we recently launched our Ultimate Guide to Digital Parenting, covering everything from screen time management to keeping kids safe on social media, to the riskiest apps to look out for right now. You’ll find tons of tips here that address pretty much any concern you might be having — and we’ve been so thrilled with our readers’ response to it.
Cool Mom Tech really is a genius resource for all kinds of issues for parents raising digital kids, including the only 4 things you need to teach your kids to be a good digital citizen, and how it actually applies to ethics and values in their offline lives too.
Wondering what that text acronym means? We’ve got it covered. Want to talk to your kids about why their digital footprint matters now? We have tips. And my own approach to my kids and social media totally changed, the day I read Kristen’s thoughts on how we’ve gotten screen time and social media with our kids wrong this whole time.
But here’s the thing: we can recommend tons of parental controls for iPhones, their gaming systems, and even your all your devices at home (and we do recommend them), we know that the very best way to keep kids safe and smart online is to talk with them. All the time. Every day.
And yes that means more research and reading for you, so we all can try to keep up with the ever-changing world of technology.
8. Sex, Gender and SexualityT-shirt via the Phluid Project
For some reason, so many parents feel the need to tiptoe around the topic of sex and gender with their kids. The thing is, if your kids are old enough to be asking about it, they’re old enough to get straight answers.
One of the best pieces of advice I received about talking to very young kids about sex (or any tough topic for that matter) is to let their questions guide you. If they keep asking questions, then keep answering.
In the meantime, keep in mind these 6 reasons why it’s important to talk honestly with our kids about their bodies from an early age. If you want a good book to help, from a biological perspective, then My Amazing Body is a great one for preschoolers.
The Barefoot Mommy has a very helpful, comprehensive post on teaching gender diversity to kids, to hep them discover the difference between sex and gender; and Welcoming Schools offers a terrific glossary about LGBTQ terms for kids — which some parents could probably use.
Of course, as our kids get older it gets more nuanced as they begin to grapple with their own feelings about sex and sexuality, and there are so many topics worth discussing, including (but in no way limited to) consent, abuse, periods, puberty, sex positivity, the #metoo movement, body shaming/body love…the list really goes on.
We even have 3 great books just about puberty for parents of girls, and even a a comic book about menstruation…written for boys. Because they need to know about it, too.
Our best advice, as with all tough topics, is to listen before you speak, and try to identify which are the tender, sensitive subjects in your own kid. Be a safe landing space for them to be honest about their questions and struggles. But just remember that “the sex talk” isn’t one talk, it’s an ongoing conversation, like all the others here.
9. School shootings, gun violence and terror
Photo :The Wear Orange campaign
One of the biggest fears parents these days face is, understandably, school shootings. We’ve been horrified and heartbroken again and again, from Sandy Hook to Parkland to the very recent UNC shooting — and the hundreds of other firearm incidents, bombs, and threats each year in churches, temples, mosques, and sadly…anywhere.
There’s no way this topic shouldn’t come up in every household in America, regardless of your kids’ ages. Even my four year old has intruder drills at her school, and that’s definitely not something she can understand or process. So we have put together lots of expert tips for talking to our kids about school shootings and bombings that they may be seeing in the news, or hearing about from friends.
We’ve also got a list of great organizations doing impactful work to help curb unnecessary gun violence — you may want to get involved with, maybe even with your kids. Because we’re all for turning our rage and fear into activism for a better world.
Additionally, be sure to read these smart tips to teach your kids about what to do if they ever get separated from you in a crowd, especially during the unlikely event of an active shooter situation. Because preparedness is calming for many kids.
Ultimately, our kids struggle to comprehend the hatred responsible for senseless violence, but we can help our kids simply by loving them. Hug them, snuggle them on the couch, listen to their concerns, and be sure to remind them that there are always helpers to look for, and that your own number one job in life as a parent is to help keep them safe.
Without a doubt, you can say the political climate has become (ahem) heated over the last few years, and even our kids are feeling the tension as a result I found Liz & Kristen’s Spawned podcast episode from 2016 really helpful, in which they talked through how to talk to kids about politics during a bitter election season. Since another presidential election season will be starting up soon, this one might be a good conversation to revisit.
We’ve heard the argument before that “kids shouldn’t be learning about politics” (sometimes the term “indoctrination” is used, sigh) but politics, now more than ever, is an extension of your values. If you talk to your kids about your religion, or even your football allegiances, you can certainly talk about your values, why politics is important to you, and why you vote the way you do or get involved with the causes that matter to you.
You can read some great books about raising activist kids that will help get kids thinking a bout what they can do to make the world a better place. Or if they’re ready to get to work, check out these 10 ways kids can get put their passion to good use.
You might be surprised to learn what even your youngest kids are concerned about — climate change, homeless animals, educating kids in other countries, preventing athletic injuries, racial justice, gun violence, literacy, STEM education, mental illness…you name it. Kids are born to want to do good!
And there’s nothing more satisfying than knowing that simply talking with our kids, and learning about and showing support for their passions and interests, can shape the paths their lives ultimately take.