5 Tips for Having Embarrassing Conversations with Your Kids

embarrassing conversations with your kids

A few years back, after the stunning death of Cory Monteith (of "Glee" fame), US magazine quoted a source saying, “He was not a typical addict…He was the nicest, sweetest guy." What a dangerous, dangerous statement. There is no such thing as a “typical” addict. The truth is, our kids, no matter how sweet and nice and talented and special they are, can end up on that path. That's the reality - one that is even more frightening for parents of high-risk ADHD kids. Cory Monteith's death was heartbreaking – and it was a wake-up call for parents to start talking and having embarrassing conversations with kids.

It's Not Too Late

Whatever the age of your child:

Start having embarrassing conversations with your kids. Teach them to face life's challenges, embarrassments, and shame, and take the judgment away. Try to keep things light while still addressing serious topics. Think it's too early? Cory started using drugs at age 13.

Start listening to them and talking with them. This is going to take some time, so be patient. And try the A.C.E. Method! Count on it being awkward at first, but remember, it is not nearly as “awkward” as a late-night knock on the door from a State Trooper telling you there has been an accident. These conversations will be difficult. Get over it. It's a matter of life and death.

If this seems a little harsh, it is.

I'm not taking my usual playful tone. This is serious business. We lose thousands of kids each year –  sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and students -- to mistakes from risky behaviors: intentional and unintentional suicides, overdoses, and accidents. 81 percent of teens say they have the opportunity to take illegal drugs – and over 42 percent try them.* Our kids are at risk, and it is up to us to do something about it. Get the help you need, whatever that looks like for you, to open up conversations with your kids. And don't wait another week, or another day, to get started. The longer you wait, the greater the risk.

I know it is hard to do, for sure. So try these tips...

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Five Tips to Help You Initiate Embarrassing Conversations with your Kids

  1. Keep breathing.
  2. Talk while doing something “normal,” like driving or making dinner, to relieve some tension and pressure.
  3. Keep it matter-of-fact. Don't make it too emotional.
  4. Use stories from life or the media as teachable moments or conversation-starters.
  5. Empower them to want to make good and safe choices rather than telling them what not to do. Focus on your influence rather than trying to control them.

Here's an example of how this might play out: 

Diane and her daughter were in the grocery store check-out line, looking at the US magazine story about Cory Monteith right after he died. Diane took a deep breath and started a conversation about it. Her daughter got embarrassed because Diane used the word “sex.” Diane persevered calmly, asking her daughter how she might handle an uncomfortable or compromising situation with her friends. When her daughter expressed a desire to be responsible, Diane presented herself as a resource if she ever needed support. Then they checked out and went home. Simple as that. Parenting report card: A+.

Bottom Line

If your child, youth, or young adult is depressed, watch for the risk factors for risky behaviors, including suicide. While this may sound scary, it can be empowering to know what to do and to be able to talk honestly with your child. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, risk factors include:

  • increased thoughts about death
  • giving away belongings
  • talking about suicide in person or on the internet
  • substance abuse

If you notice these behaviors and are concerned, talk to your child. That won't encourage them to attempt suicide, it will give them a message of caring and hope. In addition, contact their health provider and encourage your youth or young adult to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 800-273-8255 or online at www.suicidepreventionand.org.

It is important that your children know that they are not alone and that they can count on your support and guidance. It's important that you know that as well. We want our kids to reach out for help when they need it. Sometimes we need to show them how by doing it ourselves. If you want help, we are happy to coach you to develop the tools you need for these embarrassing but essential talks.

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