How to explain upsetting situations to your child

A few days ago I learned that one of my daughter’s teachers had been arrested for distributing child pornography from his computer. This came as a huge shock. I had no idea he was involved in this type of behavior and it made me feel sick.

My initial reaction was to not say anything to my kids about it. I thought, “Well, he’s not her teacher anymore, why does she need to know about something so upsetting?” However, I quickly realized this wasn’t the best approach. The first mom I spoke to about the teacher’s arrest had already told her daughter about it, so I knew the kids would be talking. Also, one of my big goals as a mom is to communicate openly, even about the tough stuff. Of course I wish I didn’t have to teach my daughters about things like child pornography. I wish it didn’t exist. However, it does and so I need to parent around it.

I realized that by bringing up the topic, I had control over how I approached it. I could answer my girls’ questions and accurately explain the situation.

It turned out, my older daughter had already heard about the arrest from a friend. The news spread fast. I quickly discovered her facts were not quite right. She was told that he was arrested as a pedophile, rather than for child pornography. I was reminded again how important it is for our kids to get the facts from us. Whether it’s about something they’ve heard on the playground, from friends or on the news, they need help understanding the information.

I ended up sitting down separately with each of my daughters and talking about what had happened. Since they are 5 years apart, I wanted to approach it differently with them.

If you experience a similar situation in your community, (or are dealing with this situation too) I highly encourage you to talk with your kids.

Here are some tips to get the conversation started:

Briefly explain what has happened and then see if they have questions. They will let you know if they want more information by what they say. My youngest daughter wasn’t super interested in the details and started talking about something else. My older daughter had questions though and so we continued the conversation.

Answer honestly. If you avoid their questions or change the subject they learn very quickly that you are not the person to go to and will look for answers elsewhere. Believe me, I get it. As parents we want to protect our kids, and often times avoiding certain subjects feels like we are keeping them safe. However, knowledge is power and educating them is important.

Meet them where they are. When I talked with my 8th grader, my approach was different then with my 8 year-old. My older daughter already knew about pornography and had heard about the arrest from her friends. I was able to clarify for her the difference between a sex offender and someone who is watching child pornography and we had a great conversation about the importance of talking to me if she sees or hears things that are upsetting.

My 8 year-old had never heard of child pornography. I explained the situation simply: how the teacher had been arrested for looking at inappropriate pictures of children. This lead into a good conversation about how our bodies are private and that nobody has the right to see or touch them. Again, was this a conversation I wanted to have? Of course not. However, now if she hears things on the playground, she will have the facts and know what is and isn’t true. She also has an awareness that there are people who behave inappropriately and that she can talk to me.

• Admit what you don’t know. Sometimes we avoid conversations because we aren’t sure we can explain things well or accurately. The important message you want to communicate is that your child can come to you with their questions and that there are no taboo topics. If you don’t know how to answer something, admit it and let them know you will find out.

• It’s okay to be embarrassed. Kids understand that some topics are uncomfortable for everyone to talk about. It’s fine to let them know you feel embarrassed talking about something but that it’s too important not too. This is a really great message for them to learn. Often times the toughest topics are the most important conversations to have.

• Keep the door open. Let them know that they can talk to you again about the topic if they need to. They may have more questions as they talk with their friends or hear more information. If they don’t say much, that’s okay too. They are still learning that you are willing to talk about the “tough stuff.”

As parents, we are often forced to teach our kids things sooner than we’d like. Whether it’s an arrest of a teacher, a story in the news or something in your community, by taking the time to talk, your child will learn it’s okay to come to you. This will help them feel safe, which is something we all want.