Sunday, March 27, 2016

How I Handled Two Difficult Talks

Having a discussion about why it's important to get ready for school like dad asked her to (October 2015).

I'm not one to shy away from conversations with my kids. I like to be completely honest with them on all issues, no matter how uncomfortable, serious, heartbreaking, or silly they can be. Complete and open honesty helps to set expectations for them and it breaks any barriers that can be set up (especially as they get older). A talk about not putting your hands down your pants in public? Had that one. A talk about other people putting their hands down your pants? Had that one too. Bullying? Check. Eating healthy? Check. Last week we knocked out not one but two big discussions: skipping school and terrorism.

I happened to notice two boys that go to the boy's school home in the middle of the day (for several days in a row). They roamed the neighborhood, no adults were present at their homes, and when I attempted to talk to them, they ran away from me. As my grandpa would say "they were up to no good." When my two boys got home from school, they asked why the boys were home before them and already playing. I could have made up an excuse or replied with an "I don't know" and attempted to change the topic, but I'd much rather hit the topic head on than dodge any other questions that would happen to come up.

"Well, I do believe they skipped school today," I told them calmly. I like to do this as nonchalantly as possible. Then the questions came: why? Why would they do that? Will they get into trouble? What have they been doing? I took a deep breath and began as best I could (this is not word for word, but mostly what we spoke at length about):

I don't know why they skipped school, but it's never a good thing. Not only are they not learning because they're not in school, but there's a chance their parents or whoever is watching them don't know where they are. That's incredibly dangerous and scary. If something were to happen to them, no one would know where they are. They could get into big trouble, not only with their parents, but with school as well. There may be a time when you want to skip school, whether it be staying home for a "sick day" or leaving school with a friend to go do something else. You can get into trouble with school AND you could get mom and/or dad into trouble too if you're somewhere you're not suppose to be. Skipping school will not be tolerated in this house. There's a reason you are in school and you will not waste my time, your teacher's time, or the school's time if you choose to act in this manner. 

From there we did a couple of roll playing scenarios and spoke a bit more in-depth about what skipping school actually meant. I'm hoping we're far off from any of these situations, but the reality is that the boys I saw skipping school were just two grades older than my oldest. My fingers are crossed that by opening the communication lines on these subjects and they know what the consequences are ahead of time, we'll avoid any skipping incidents. I'm not naive enough to think that we won't be having this conversation again in middle school or high school but I feel better knowing they know what is expected of them.

I went to bed feeling confident in our discussion. When I awoke, I turned on the TV to the morning news. That's when the images from Brussels flooded our screen. I was speechless and stared at the screen. My stomach instantly felt as if I had swallowed a brick. I have touched on the subject of terrorism briefly with my three (due to the Paris attacks) as has school (thanks to school shootings such as Columbine) so this was nothing new to them sadly. Our discussion was mainly that of reassurance: Brussels is not near our house, nor is it by their school. No, this has never happened here in our neighborhood. Me, school, our city, state, and country do the best they can to protect you (and everyone else). 

I'm not confident they actually grasp the concept of terrorism. By definition, terrorism is the use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of political aim. Terrorism inflicts fear (terror) into people. Innocently, during our talk, my middle son asked if the spider in his room was a terrorist because "it really really scared me." Not exactly, but for a tough topic such as terrorism, the most important thing is for my three to feel loved, cared for, and safe. After seeing such heartbreaking pictures and hearing the stories out of Brussels, I am amazed that just by touching briefly on the subject made my kids confident in the situation.

Of the two conversations, I actually found our Skipping School - Question and Answer Session proved much more difficult. I suspect it's because the skipping school issue happened to kids they know, making it much more of a reality than a terrorist attack halfway around the world. We have yet to touch on the subject of ISIS or speak in depth about terrorism. However, I want them to hear these things from me first. I want them to be able to ask whatever questions they have and get proper information rather than hearing it secondhand on the playground (everything is discussed on the playground apparently).

I realize not every parent chooses to be as forthcoming about everything as I choose to be. This works for my kids and our family, however it may not work for yours. How do you handle the tough talks? Are there any subjects you will not touch on with your kids?