I was having a luxuriously relaxing cup of coffee at our local shop with my twin 7-year-old daughters one recent morning. We were talking about homework, how one doesn’t like dance class, and how they prefer crushed cornflakes to breadcrumbs/parmesan on my homemade chicken fingers. Mellow, chilling, nice. Out of the blue: “Mom, my friend (Susie) told me that her sister said that her bus driver’s cousin jumped off a bridge to kill himself. Do people really do that mom?” Sound effect: Gadoink! Zammo! How to respond when your kids say something you’re not expecting? Here are Dr. Jen’s tips:
1. Kids are exposed to other kids, who are exposed to other kids and who knows what. Don’t be surprised if your young child hears something you’re not expecting! And, don’t panic.
2. Your initial reaction acts as a barometer for how your child will share the next time. If you’re stressed and shocked and scared, your child may be more reluctant to ask in the future. And, bigger kids, bigger problems. So, even if you burn yourself with coffee (like I did!), react by thanking your child for asking you.
3. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for (most of the time)! And, they are pretty good detectives! Be honest, be truthful, and don’t lie. Because your child will continue to pursue this natural curiosity and ask others.
4. Answer questions in a developmentally appropriate manner. Explain what your child can understand, and break down the answer into parts he or she can ask questions about and digest. With this doozie, I said, “Yes, people can be very very sad and very very sick. Sometimes people can get help for this sadness, but sometimes they get so sad and don’t get the help they need. Then they may do something like that.” I was honest and tried my best.
5. Bring the topic up again to continue the dialogue. Children continue to wonder and process complicated and scary topics way beyond the initial conversation. Make sure to send the message that you are there to listen, support, and love.
Waiting for the birds & the bees! Will report back after that one!
XOXO Dr. Jen