Updated: Oct 14
I have spent the last twenty one years teaching prevention education. I will admit having "the talk" with other people's children was much easier than having it with my own children, but I knew I had to do it. Luckily, I had years of practice teaching everything from alcohol and drug prevention to puberty and sex education. Still, it was HARD! Here are a few tips that I have learned that can help you not only start the conversation but keep it going.
Start when they are young. Teaching them that you are open for conversation when the topics are easier will help you once they become a little more difficult. From day one, alcohol and drug use was an everyday conversation in our home. My parents and grandparents made it very clear that we were more susceptible to addiction based on our family history. They did not make it taboo to talk about why. They were open and honest about how it had effected them and their lives. My husband and I did the same with our kids. We told them they are going to be offered drugs and alcohol throughout their lives and they needed to understand the danger. Just last week as our oldest was headed out the door, we reminded him that we did not want him drinking but if he chose to drink all he had to do was call and we would come get him. Always leave the door of conversation open.
Know that this is an ongoing conversation not a one day event. A few years ago I had sent out a notice to parents in my home school that I would be teaching the topic of puberty the next week. I had a parent call me to tell me her story of the talk gone wrong. She was cleaning out her oldest daughter's book bag and found the note. Noticing that the classes were starting the next day she freaked out and sat her fifth grader down and completely explained the birds and the bees in one very uncomfortable hour long talk. The child came home the next day and the mom asked what she learned. The daughter said, "We will stink if we don't use deodorant." I start slowly and age appropriately! You do not need to explain everything in one sitting. This is a life-long conversation. The topics will change and their understanding will grow as they grow.
You won’t always get it right. I once had a terrifying moment myself thinking I had completely missed the one chance to have the talk with my oldest. He was seven and asked me what a “vaganh” was. I was in the middle of making dinner and doing the dishes after a long day and was not in the mood to play guessing games. I told him I had no idea what it was. He insisted I knew. So I asked him, "Is it a Pokémon?" "No mom" was the response I had gotten from a very frustrated little boy. I truly had no Idea what he was talking about...until I went to pick up the bathroom and saw it. He had opened the tampon box and had read the very confusing and weird diagram of how to use them! OMG!!!! HE was asking me what a vagina was and I totally blew him off!!!! I do this for a living and I had messed it up!!!!
Strike up difficult conversations in the car when it's just the two of you. It can be much easier to talk when you aren't looking each other in the eyes. Plus, neither of you can run. BONUS! Talk about what their friends are doing. Don't overreact. If they tell you their friend has been drinking and having sex, the worst thing you can do is tell your child you don't want them to be friends! Ask them questions like: how do they feel about their friend's behavior?; how do they think this may turn out badly?; and what would they do if in the same situation? You can tell them what you hope your child would do or say but don't be judgmental or you risk shutting the door of conversation! You want your child to feel safe in coming to you with this information.
It's ok if you don't have the answers to their questions. Tell them, don't it make something up. Reach out for help! This is where your “call a friend” line really can be a life saver. If your friends can't help, then do your research. There are a lot of good sites out there for information. DO NOT Google with your kid watching! You might see things even you can't unsee!
Remember, it's never too early or too late to start these conversations with your kids. You'll do just fine!