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How to Start the Conversation When Your Child Asks About Sex, Death and Other Tough Topics
  • Kids can be very curious, and while most of the time, their questions revolve around simple, everyday occurrences that parents can answer easily, some of their other inquiries might deal with subjects that are more sensitive and difficult to discuss lightly, such as sex and death.

    Many parents might prefer to put off talking about those topics for later, thinking that their child won’t be able to understand anything they say. However, experts say there are benefits to discussing those tough topics early, no matter the age of your child.

    How to start the conversation for 5 tough topics

    For Deborah Gilboa, M.D., a parenting and youth development expert, the best way for parents to know when their child is ready to talk about sensitive subjects is when they start asking questions about those subjects.

    “If they ask, they’re ready to know and you can provide them with a developmentally-appropriate answer,” Dr. Gilboa tells Romper. She further elaborates that the questions will only continue later, so if you start opening the conversation early, your child will know he can turn to you for answers instead of simply Googling them.

    Remember to take into account your child’s developmental stage and sensitivities when you start a conversation on the following

    1. Sex

    Parents undoubtedly get flustered when their kids shoot them that age-old question: “Where do babies come from?” Some children might also begin to exhibit a fascination with their private parts or even see sexually suggestive or explicit illustrations on TV or the Internet.


    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents to be honest and to provide accurate information when discussing sex with their children. This includes using the proper terms for the sexual organs. Child and adolescent psychologist Dr. Nina Tepper also recommends starting by asking your child what he already knows and if he wants to know more, then using that as a jump-off point for your discussion. You’ll have lots of opportunities to talk about it again, so don’t pressure yourself to get everything right the first time.

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    2. Death

    Death is a subject that is difficult to talk about even for adults. Many parents feel the urge to shield their children from it. However, according to Dr. Gilboa, the best time to talk to children about death is not when a loved one die but before it occurs whenever possible. You want to help prepare him for the impact of that unfortunate event.

    She tells Romper, “If there’s someone in your life who is declining in health, talking to your kids about how you’re worried about them and want to spend time with them is much better than avoiding it and then having your child be shocked by their death which can make them feel much less safe in the world.”

    Parents also recommends using concrete explanations when discussing death with preschoolers who tend to take everything they hear literally. “Euphemisms like ‘Grandpa passed away’ or ‘Your turtle went to sleep’ will probably just confuse and scare him — and the last thing you want is a kid who’s afraid to go to bed because he thinks he might not wake up again.”

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    3. Separation

    Sometimes, marriages and relationships don’t work out, and they decide that it would be better if they separate. In cases like this, which can be very hard for young children to understand, parents need to take the time to talk to them about the situation honestly.

    One crucial thing parents need to do to reassure their child: Tell them that even if Mom and Dad will no longer be together, they both still love him and will always be there for him no matter what. While he doesn’t need to know every detail behind why you are separating, he does need to know what is going on and that things will be okay.

    Family Relationships Online also cautions parents from belittling or speaking ill of one another in front of the child, which can build anger and frustration in him.

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    4. Alcohol and drugs

    As they grow up, children can get exposed to individuals who will try to get them to try drugs and alcohol. Without a bit of knowledge of what drugs and alcohol are and how they can affect people, a child might eventually fall prey to substance abuse and addiction.

    Dr. Gilboa recommends moms and dads to take every chance they can to discuss this subject with their kids. This can be as simple as explaining why you need to take certain pharmaceutical drugs to treat illnesses or clarifying that alcoholic drinks are only for adults. Talk to him about the effect of these substances using terms he will understand.


    While this won’t guarantee your child will never try either drugs or alcohol, it will inform him that he can open up to you if he feels tempted to and that he can approach you for questions he might have.

    5. Mental health issues

    Mental health issues like depression and anxiety can affect both children and adults alike. Yes, these are very complex and difficult to understand for adults, but having this conversation will help you also build empathy. He will have a clearer idea of how he can relate to people he encounters around who are dealing with these issues.

    How do you talk to your child about mental health struggles? For one, avoid using words like ‘crazy’ to describe others. Dr. Gilboa also suggests explaining why some individuals might have to take medications to help deal with their illness. You can also try finding jump-off points from daily life, like films with characters who struggle with mental health issues or even storybooks which depict different kinds of emotions, which will help you use age-appropriate language to discuss the topic.

    Jean-Paul Boudreau, a professor of psychology and director of the Children, Health, Infancy, Learning, Development (CHILD) Laboratory at Ryerson University in Canada, tells Today’s Parent, “They may know someone who is sick or feeling very sad. Weave the narrative of mental illness into something they know or have witnessed.”

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