Parenting - - Contents -

How much should we tell our kids?

Should you tell your kids how much you earn? What do you tell them about that scary di­ag­no­sis? Do you tell them that you smoked dope as a teenager? How about the mar­riage that didn't work be­fore you met their mother? Know­ing what to share and what to hold back, know­ing when to share it and how to do it in the best way are all very dif­fi­cult ques­tions. John Cowan has been scratch­ing his head over this one and has come up with some help­ful prin­ci­ples.

Area­son­able com­pass in fam­ily life is, “What is the most loving thing to do? What is the best thing for the kids?” Some­times the best thing will be for them to know some­thing, even if it is un­com­fort­able, be­cause good in­for­ma­tion can help ground im­ma­ture spec­u­la­tion. A painful ex­am­ple might be when par­ents are separat­ing. Chil­dren are sen­si­tive and will al­ready have picked up on the ten­sion. They will cer­tainly no­tice if one par­ent is now ab­sent from the home. Their young minds will guess at all sorts of ex­pla­na­tions and a not un­com­mon con­clu­sion is that the break-up is all be­cause of them. “If I had been a bet­ter boy, Daddy wouldn’t have left.” They des­per­ately need to be res­cued from that mis­ap­pre­hen­sion, and also to be re­as­sured that no mat­ter what else hap­pens, they will be loved and cared for. It's a mes­sage that

fam­ily mat­ters

The few fam­i­lies in the sur­vey who did talk to their chil­dren about their in­come mainly did so to teach them about bud­get­ing, and I can see the ben­e­fit of that. I have heard of fam­i­lies us­ing Mo­nop­oly money to demon­strate how much of their in­come goes to rent, power, gro­ceries, in­sur­ance etc., and how lit­tle of that, ap­par­ently huge, in­come (from a child’s per­spec­tive) is left over. How­ever,

years by hav­ing a week­end away with your child and lis­ten­ing to The Big Week­end CDS to­gether (avail­able from The Par­ent­ing Place). They cover all the ba­sics of hy­giene and devel­op­ment, cou­pled with a healthy dose of how to look af­ter self-es­teem through pu­berty. Al­ter­na­tively, you could get a pu­berty book and go through it to­gether – though the ad­van­tage of lis­ten­ing rather than read­ing is that you can both stare straight ahead with­out any eye con­tact! Watch TV to­gether, and when sex­ual themes de­velop, use it as an op­por­tu­nity to launch a dis­cus­sion on the topic. If there is no sex cur­rently on TV, wait five min­utes.

Share your val­ues. They prob­a­bly al­ready know them, but state them ex­plic­itly, and why you hold them. If you be­lieve a per­son should not have sex un­til mar­riage, say so. Let them know you be­lieve that sex is spe­cial, and they are spe­cial – and that to have sex is a big de­ci­sion.

Tell them they can talk to you any time. You can­not guar­an­tee that you will not be shocked, and maybe a lit­tle up­set, but you will al­ways lis­ten and help. Let them know that your love for them is not con­di­tional – you will love them and sup­port them re­gard­less.

fam­ily mat­ters

A coach does not just do one big talk to the team and then re­tire to the grand­stand for the rest of the sea­son. Sim­i­larly so with your coach­ing around the topic of sex. New ex­pe­ri­ences, knowl­edge and dilem­mas keep com­ing all through ado­les­cence, so oc­ca­sion­ally re­visit the topic – but not ev­ery time you ride in the car or sit down to din­ner, or they may de­velop a ner­vous tic.

One fi­nal word – love. Would it not be tragic if our beau­ti­ful young peo­ple launched into their adult lives with a head full of knowl­edge and a pocket full of con­doms, but never got to ex­pe­ri­ence real love and in­ti­macy? Ex­cite­ment and sen­su­al­ity can­not cre­ate love, or take its place. So of course we have to talk to our chil­dren about sex, but let them know what your real dream is for them – real, mean­ing­ful, life­time love.

When it comes to 'taboo top­ics', ev­ery fam­ily is dif­fer­ent. Some­times our kids will need to know more than we're shar­ing with them, and some­times less, but the im­por­tant thing to ask our­selves is, "What is the most loving thing to do? What is the best thing for the kids?”

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