Handling Tough Conversations with Your Child

By Janis Meredith | Posted 9/21/2020

Tough conversations are in the parenting job description.

Your teen gets caught cheating.

Your child gets in trouble for bullying a teammate.

You learn that your middle schooler is not being respectful to their coach.

What makes tough conversations tough? They are hard because you either feel uncomfortable with the topic or because you are dreading your child’s response.

The option to bury your head in the sand or push the dirt under the rug is not an alternative if you truly want to be an intentional parent. Ignoring those tough conversations is you merely abdicating your job as a parent. It is in these tough situations that you must not fade into the background and leave your kids to parent themselves.

Here are a few suggestions to help them go smoother:

Timing is Everything.

Have the conversation at a time when your child is not hungry, tired or in a hurry to be somewhere else. Choose a time when you can have an unhurried talk, and when there are no other distractions around.
Weekend mornings are better because there’s no school rush. Plus, having it in the morning allows your child to think it over and come back to talk more later in the day. It may be wise not to tell them at the end of the day when they are tired or before bedtime when they may have trouble sleeping.

Choose Your Words.

Think through the conversation before you dive in. Besides the facts, what does your child need to hear from you?

It’s okay for children to see that their parents are sad or upset, but that first conversation is very important in helping them understand and accept what you are presenting to them. Having confidence in what you are saying will help your kids to be less fearful.

You should know your kids well enough to know how they think and how they will respond. Listen to your words ahead of time and imagine you are them hearing it. Your words and how you say them can determine whether your child will be receptive or not.

Measure Your Words.

Depending on the situation, you do not have to tell your children every detail. For instance, if you are telling them that Mom and Dad are getting divorced, they don’t need to know every sordid detail. Talk to them in straightforward and simple language with age-appropriate commentary.

Begin and End with "I Love You."

No matter what you must say or what changes are coming to your family, your child needs to hear and feel that you love them unconditionally.

Acknowledge Their Feelings – and Yours.

Let your kids know that it’s okay to be sad or even angry and that you are not upset with them for feeling that way. It’s okay for them to be scared or confused. Let them know you feel scared or angry or confused, too.

Create a Safe Space.

Admit that the topic may be hard to discuss, even for you. Let your child know they are free to say whatever they want and don’t have to worry about you getting mad. You want them to feel free to ask anything they need to know. Don’t judge or correct their opinions when they are sharing. There will be time later to share what they need to hear.


The conversation most likely isn’t over just because you stop talking about it at one point. If the subject is a hard one, kids may have more questions, or they may need time to process. Let your kids know that you’re always available for questions.

When my daughter was in high school, I remember one tough conversation that took me up on the roof.

Her best friend’s mother had called me to tell me that my daughter had said something to her daughter about suicide. She did what any mother should do, and that was to let me know.

On this particular day, my daughter came home from school upset. The next thing I knew she had crawled out one of the windows of our split-level home and was sitting on the roof.

Knowing she was upset; I went looking for her and found her on the roof. I crawled out the window and sat down beside her.

I listened, asked a few questions, and listened some more. We talked about suicide and the feelings that sometimes drive teens to harm them-selves.

It was a hard conversation for a mom to have with her 15-year-old daughter. But, it was one that I simply could not ignore.

In a world where even little kids are not immune to difficult subjects, it’s important for parents to help put things in perspective, answer questions, and look for solutions together. Don’t back down from those tough conversations.

Janis Meredith is a family life coach who wants to help all parents raise champions. You can find out more at rcfamilies.com.