By Taraneh Arhamsadr and Rita Ho-Bezzola
When we were growing up in the 80s and 90s, parenting looked very different than it does now. In fact, it’s even changed a lot in the 9 or so years since we both became moms.
Parenting trends come and go, and we try out those that resonate with our families and pass on those that don’t. We are intentional when and where we can be, but even with all the books and blogs and philosophies out there, sometimes, you just have to follow your instincts and take things as they come.
We believe that every parent out there is the expert of their child, and is uniquely positioned to understand what’s best for them—whether it be a trend or not.
But there’s one practice we stand by, that we see more parents valuing, and that we’d like to see all parents doing, and that is talking to their kids. Like, really talking to them. About everything.
Before you protest, understand that we’re not telling you to share the gory details of a horrific crime with your 4-year-old. What we mean is that it is important to communicate with your kids, even about challenging subjects or things that are hard to talk about, but in a way that is developmentally appropriate for them—in a way they can understand and connect with.
So many of us grew up in the era of fear-based parenting. Think about, for example, the way your parents talked to you about sex or drugs. Writer Nicole Johnson says it well: “We 80s kids were raised on a steady stream of Afterschool Specials, Just Say No, MADD, SADD and the belief that at any given moment our lives could end. The cold war raged on the other side of the world. Presidents and pop stars warned us of the daily dangers. ‘Yeah, everybody’s got a bomb, we could all die any day.’”
So many warnings, so little explanation. When it came time to actually talk through and explain these tough subjects and others, like pain or illness or even death, parents and other trusted adults in our lives often faltered, not knowing what to say or do. We can’t blame them—they were doing their best with the resources and ideas that were available to them at the time.
But as a result, so many of us grew up being afraid of so many things, and not always knowing why.
It’s not easy to talk to your child about the tough stuff, whether it is external – a natural disaster, an act of violence – or personal – a sick grandparent, the loss of a pet, a surgery or challenging medical procedure they might need – which is why so many of us as parents still struggle to have these conversations. We want our kids to be kids for as long as possible, to shield them from the yucky or sad things in this world.
But ask yourself, how will that serve them when they inevitably face the tough stuff in their lives? Will they be able to process and cope with these experiences without some preparation and understanding to guide them?
In short, no. Shielding our kids from these conversations is doing a disservice to them, both now and for their future selves.
The conversation we’re focused on surrounds childrens’ health, both physical and mental. We’ve heard far too many stories from our peers who hold on to childhood trauma from medical experiences they were blindsided with and unprepared for when they were young, because nobody talked to them about it; or from fellow parents who are afraid their kid will freak out if they know they are getting a shot or X-ray, so they wait until right beforehand to tell them or, worse, don’t tell them at all. We’ve heard from people who never received the mental health support they needed when they were young and feel ill equipped to broach any conversation about mental or emotional health with their own kids.
We get it. These are not easy conversations to have, and there aren’t sufficient resources available to guide parents and caretakers in having this type of open dialogue with their kids. Moreover, kids and even adolescents don’t think or communicate the same way adults do, making connection all the more challenging.
We want to change that.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen just how powerful open, honest, developmentally appropriate discussions can be in shifting the way kids approach their physical and mental health—including with our own kids. We’ve discovered resources and professionals who can facilitate conversations with kids around really hard topics. We’ve created innovative tools that can help spark productive dialogue and meaningful connection between kids and parents. And we believe that all families can be empowered to talk about the tough stuff with their kids.
Just talk to your kids. Start the conversation. Let them ask questions, allow them to share their fears, and validate their concerns. You may just be surprised at the good it will do.
Preparing kids for healthcare experiences [from partner Child Life on Call]
Talking to kids about tragedies [from NCFR]
Taraneh Arhamsadr and Rita Ho-Bezzola are mamas and the founders of Piper+Enza, a media and publishing company working to reimagine every kid’s healthcare journey through stories, play, and resources for families. Taraneh is also an Oakland mom. They recently launched their first Kickstarter campaign for The Big Book for Kids, an interactive journal to support meaningful connection between children and their trusted adults.