Talking to your toddler about tough stuff

As Baby gets older, you’ll probably find that you have to explain some tough stuff to them from time to time. Obviously, you’ll want to use your best judgment in each individual situation, and do what you feel is best, in the way that is good for you. Keeping that in mind, here are some pointers to remember for future conversations.

Be mindful of what you say around Baby

Baby might not have your verbal skills just yet, but it’s safer if you just assume that they are listening to you at all times. Toddlers do pick up on what they hear, so when scary or upsetting things happen, it might be troubling for Baby to hear them being referenced while not understanding what the conversation is about. Figurative language can also confuse toddlers, especially when it’s used to talk about emotionally charged subjects they don’t understand.

Don’t be afraid to show emotions

Of course, on the flip side, it’s okay if you’re upset in front of Baby during or after you’ve talked to them about what’s happened. Some parents feel that toddlers shouldn’t see strong emotions while they’re this age, but while it might surprise Baby or even upset them for a little while, but it’s not fair to you to have to bottle all of your feelings up. More than that, it’s good for Baby to see you expressing these emotions, even if they aren’t pleasant. From watching you, they will gain a model for how to handle strong emotions, and the understanding that their own strong feelings and reactions are a normal and healthy part of life.

Ease into the conversation

Baby understands the world in a fairly limited way. Some of life’s bigger concepts, like illness or death, really don’t make too much sense at this age. It might be helpful to wait until you see a certain theme on the television, or in a book, or even to buy a book that addresses what you’re going through, and then gently start a conversation with Baby about it. This may make it a little easier for Baby to frame the situation in a way that they understand.

Go into detail – but not too much detail

As a general rule of thumb, you don’t need to go into too much detail when you’re explaining these kinds of things to your toddler. It’s good if you can answer the questions that Baby may have, but at this age, too many details will likely confuse them, so try to keep your explanations simple. If you’re religious, you might use this time to introduce Baby to the basics of your faith, as well.

Reassure, reassure, reassure

Whatever you’re experiencing at the time of your conversation with Baby, the biggest takeaway from the conversation should always be the same: that you love Baby, that they isn&;t being punished for anything, that this situation has nothing to do with them, and that as their parent, you’re here to protect them. These are important things to reassure Baby about, because they can really feel a sense of powerlessness in these situations.

Expect more questions.

Toddlers need to repeat things a few times before they really come to terms with them. Baby is likely to ask you more questions – some old, some new – about the situation in the days ahead. This doesn’t mean that you didn’t do a good job explaining things. It’s just how Baby is learning and processing. They might not have questions now, but end up asking you follow-up questions later, too, when they have had time to process what you said to them.

While Baby is this young, don’t worry about starting a conversation without having all the answers, and don’t measure success by anything except whether Baby seems reassured after the conversation. These situations are hard for every parent, and just about every parent struggles with these conversations in the beginning. As the parent, you deserve a lot of credit just for getting started.

  • Carla Fisher. “How to Talk to Kids About Difficult Subjects.” RandomHouseKids. Random House LLC, Sep 2013. Web.
  • “How to Talk to Kids About Death.” ChildDevelopmentInfo. Child Development Institute, LLC, 2015. Web.
  • “Talking about difficult topics.” NSPCC. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, 2017. Web.
  • “Tragic Events.” FredRogers. The Fred Rogers Company, 2017. Web.
  • Mary Tamer. “When Bad Things Happen.” Harvard. Harvard Graduate School of Education, Apr 16 2015. Web.
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