Half of parenting is staying a step ahead of our kids. (The other half is stepping out of the way.) Where do you step when the tough topics come up with your kids? Sex, drugs, rock and roll? 

If only it was that easy! Try sexual politics, depression, and race relations. And don’t forget those frequent Big Cultural Moments when half of our country is screaming and the other half is rage-tweeting. 

You can take that next step confidently.

Stay A Step Ahead…

1. Remember the Goal.

The goal is to have ongoing conversations with your children that teach them how to be critical thinkers and allow them to process their own thoughts and feelings. It’s not about having all the right answers; it’s about validating their curiosity and their ability to ask questions.

2. Remove Conversational Obstacles.

Sometimes these crucial conversations don’t materialize because we don’t make room for them. We’re too busy or too distracted. Be where your kids are. Be conversationally available. Some talks you’ll have to initiate. Some talks spontaneously generate. (Here are some conversation starters you’ll love!)

3. Relationship Capital Rules.

Invest the time. Build up the relationship capital you’ll want to draw on for those tough topics. This means you spend time together not angling for The Big Important Talk. Just enjoy spending time together. Don’t sleep on silliness. You might be goofing around, talking about nothing, when it suddenly turns into something. 

4. Remain A Reliable Source.

Our kids have a sixth sense for insincerity. Can they count on you when it comes to the little things? Like it or not, our kids are always sizing us up. They’re watching us and wondering if we can handle their hopes and fears. They won’t come out and say they don’t trust you; they just won’t say anything at all. 

… And Know When To Step Out Of The Way. 

1. Listen. Don’t lecture.

Sometimes your child needs a good, firm “listening to”. Hold back and let them have it.

2. Respond. Don’t react.

Keep your cool when you hear something you disagree with. If you are dismissive or defensive, your child will shut the conversation down. Admit when you don’t know the answer and find a way to find it together. If the conversation is getting a little heated or the volume is getting turned up, be the adult; be the parent.

3. Investigate. Don’t interrogate.

Sometimes your child’s real question is masked by the question they actually ask. Learn to listen between the lines. Often, our kids need to work their way around to sharing what’s really on their minds or what they really want to ask. Be patient and leave some room for their thoughts to unspool and take shape. Ask clarifying questions. Ask questions that expand the conversation and invite your child to lean in closer, not pull back and withdraw.

Parents, By All Means, Teach Your Children.

You are the best resource for your child. Share your values and beliefs. Many parents underestimate the influence they have on their children. Research consistently shows that young people want their parents to talk with them about tough topics. Let them know what you believe and why concerning these issues. This will help them learn the process of determining what they believe.

There’s no shortage of voices willing to speak into your child’s life. Media. Social media. The kids on the bus. The classroom curriculum. The entertainment industry. Consumer culture. All of them are ready to step up and shape your child’s thinking on all the tough topics. What’s your next step?

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