(CMR) Mealtime is often when the whole family gets together. This is a great time for parents to talk to their children and get them to share what is on their minds. While you can start by asking children about their day, it may not always get them talking. Sometimes asking more direct questions is better. Ask what made them happy on that day or what made them sad.
It is also important to be consistent psychologists believe family mealtime can provide security and also create opportunities for positive interactions among family members. It is also important to let your children know that you are listening by asking follow-up questions.
Here are some conversations that Parents Magazine writer Michele C. Hollow thinks are important to have as a family before your children are 10 years old.
News- Some topics may be scary, but your child is likely exposed to them in conversations with their peers, hearing it mentioned on TV or seeing it online. In general, if your child asks about newsy topics like fires, accidents, or school shootings, keep the conversation aligned to their developmental levels. Ask them what they heard and if they have any concerns. Be sure to remind your children that they are safe and secure, even if you don't have all the answers.
Climate Change- When it comes to climate change, discuss all the things you can do as a family to help the environment. Brainstorm ways you can conserve energy, like shutting off lights when you leave a room. Suggest picking out reusable water bottles and lunch bags to limit single-use plastics. Set out a recycling bin in your kitchen to encourage your kids to reduce waste. If we identify ways to address a problem, it can help children feel somewhat in control and that they are making a difference.
Special needs/disabilities- People often look at what makes children with special needs different than what makes them like other children. You can change this for your kids. Help your children see the ways they are similar to those with special needs. This can help them build empathy for others.
Politics- If your child expresses an interest, it is ok to talk to your child about politics without being judgemental. Break down examples on more simplistic terms for young children. For older children, watch a news show or political debate and let your child know he can ask questions. If your child appears upset by a political outcome, encourage your kids to get involved and express their opinions. Even a young child can write a letter (with your help) to a local politician sharing their views, telling them how they'd like them to vote on a local bill or national cause, or asking how they can get involved.
Drug, alcohol, smoking- You and your child may have seen a character in a movie smoking or using drugs. Maybe your child knows an adult or a friend's older sibling who smokes. Take advantage of those teachable moments by explaining how cigarettes, vaping, alcohol, and drugs can affect a person's body. For little ones, break it down by talking about the harmful effects that these substances can have on the body.
Death- Your child may experience a loss, and it is important that they understand what is happening. Give your child a chance to express his feelings about the deceased. If a relative, friend, or pet recently died, ask your child to talk about his feelings. Ask your child to remember what was so special about this person or pet.
Bullying- If you suspect your child has been bullied, understand that your child may be embarrassed to talk about it. Tell your child to speak up and tell the bully in a clear and calm manner to stop. If that is too hard or it doesn't help, tell your child to walk away from the bully and to find a teacher who can intervene.
You should also tell your child it’s important to stop bullying. If your child sees someone being bullied, have him call a teacher to stop it. You don’t want your child to get hurt, but he can quietly find a teacher to put a stop to it.
If your child is bullying others, explain to him that his actions can deeply hurt others. If it continues, consider having your child meet with a counselor.
Mental health- Along with asking kids ‘how was your day?', parents should be sure to also ask “how are you?” to let kids know it's alright to talk about their feelings. When it comes to discussing mental health, preschool-age children need less information and fewer details than elementary school kids. What works for both is to compare mental health to a physical ailment. Kids should be able to express feelings of sadness, stress, or depression in the same way they can tell you if they have a headache or their belly hurts.
Sex, consent, and boundaries- All children should learn about what is and what isn’t appropriate when it comes to touching or being touched. From age 2 to 5, children should learn about boundaries. Skip explicit details and focus on simple touch-based games—ask permission to tickle them and then have them tell you when to stop. Explain they should tell you when it’s not comfortable and emphasize that they can talk to you if they’ve ever felt they were inappropriately touched.
For children ages 6 through 10, establish rules about talking to strangers, sharing photos online, and discussing things they may be uncomfortable with.