5 Things You Actually Should Discuss With Your Elementary Schooler — Even If You Think You Shouldn’t

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mother cuddling with young daughter

Many parents try to protect their children from hearing about topics that they consider developmentally too mature. This is well-intentioned, but parents who censor discussions too much can miss out on wonderful opportunities for teaching and shaping their kids’ perspectives in healthy ways. Here are five topics that many parents of kids aged 5-11 tend to shy away from, but that can actually be profoundly meaningful to discuss.

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Here are 5 things you should discuss with your elementary schooler, even if you think you shouldn’t:

1. Sex

Most parents nowadays are on board with teaching their kids the correct anatomical names for their genitals. Unfortunately, this comes from a place of fear that the child will not be able to accurately report what happened if they were sexually abused. There is also a world of pleasure that comes from sex, including closeness with a partner, making babies, and general positive physical sensations. This is why I have discussed sex and procreation openly with my kids starting when they were early enough to understand, e.g. age 3 or 4. When you see children touching their genitals, that is a great opportunity to discuss that it feels good to touch yourself there, but it is private. When your kids start asking how babies are made is another great opportunity, this time to explain how genitals work and how sex leads to pregnancy and babies. And when elementary schoolers ask about romantic or sexual scenes on TV or things they overhear from other kids, that is a great opportunity to discuss your own perspectives on sex within relationships.

My personal view is that sex is positive and feels good within the context of a connection between two people that love or like each other, and that generally, in my experience, high school is when people are mature enough to start having some form of a sexual relationship with partners. Your view may be similar or different, but remember that any negativity towards sex will impact your child’s view of it, and I have many clients who trace current sexual issues to the negative spin they heard about sex as a kid.) Also, do not be shy to show physical affection toward your partner in front of your kids. They can know that you lock the door to your bedroom for private adult time, as well.

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2. Politics

Rather than creating a small mouthpiece for your own political beliefs, it is an amazing gift to your child if you can discuss all political viewpoints with equanimity. If you only share your own views and denigrate the opposing side, you are limiting a great opportunity to teach your child empathy, perspective-taking, and the ability to think critically. Certainly, share what you personally believe, but mocking or devaluing the other party’s views, calling them stupid, or portraying them in a two-dimensional caricature, only teaches your child to be closed-minded, no matter how you affiliate politically. And even very young kids can understand that there are at least two sides to any issue. Teaching your kids how to turn around an issue critically in their minds, and how to understand why people may feel differently about it due to their own backgrounds and experiences, is one of the aspects of parenting that I have personally found most rewarding. Issues to discuss include gun control, pro-life vs pro-choice, taxes, and whatever is most interesting to you.

3. Aging and death

Many parents worry about traumatizing their kids by discussing death. But this is an excellent opportunity to discuss the cycle of life and to inoculate your kids (at least somewhat) against the fear of death and aging. There are many cultures where children are privy to death, dying and illness, and come to understand these as natural stages of life. If you do not talk about death with a tone of fear or dread, but rather as a natural endpoint to a life fully and well lived, then your children will internalize this and not dread aging, death, or, more generally, change.

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4. Your job

While most kids know the sentence-long description of what their parents do, very few know the details. If you find your job interesting and meaningful, sharing this aspect of your life with your child can be highly instructive to them. It provides a template for how to think about their career. Stories about your job can make your kids proud of you, particularly stories of how you navigate tricky or complex situations. You may end up with a child who wants to follow in your footsteps and uses you as a model of career success. Note: If you work primarily for money, rather than being passionate about a career path, you should still discuss work. Your child may make the same decision, and working hard to support your family is a point of pride. If you can be positive about a job that has downsides (does any job not?), this also provides an excellent example to your child of how attitude affects how you think about things, and how long-term goals are often more important than short-term pleasure.

5. Your own struggles

This may be the most important point on this list. When children do not see a parent deal with current struggles and challenges, they have no role models for how to deal with life’s bumps in the road. Many parents want to shield kids entirely from their own struggles, with good intentions of not making their kids anxious. But what you may be gaining in the short-term escape from anxiety, you lose in the long term, when kids become even more anxious because they have not seen any effective ways to resolve problems. Marital conflict should also not be kept hidden from kids, who then turn into adults who have never seen a relationship problem resolved successfully. An audience comprised of your children is a tremendous motivator to fight fair, and to reconcile openly and lovingly. Of course, I am not talking about vicious fights with name calling and about adult issues; whether Dad cheated or Mom is cold and unloving. I am talking about fights over who should do the laundry or whether the cell phone is okay to use at the dinner table. If kids see some of these and see them get worked through, they will have templates for resolving conflict effectively in their own marriages.

Other areas to discuss that my own kids have found interesting when I discuss them are: a lack of confidence in various areas, anxiety about doing well at work, and feeling stressed with too much to do. If children see that even you, an adult that they look up to, can struggle with and work through issues, they will be quicker to identify and work through issues in their own lives. If they never see you deal with issues, they are likelier to be defensive about acknowledging their own. If it is very difficult for you to discuss any issues you have with your child, you may be struggling because your own parent burdened you with discussing issues that were anxiety-provoking and above your developmental level. This often leads to parents being hyper vigilant about burdening kids and thereby insulating them from exposure to even positive, healthy examples of how adults work through problems.

If these points resonate with you, resolve to discuss at least one of them with your child this week, and/or discuss with your parenting partner (if you have one) how to incorporate these concepts into your dinner table discussions. And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Just One Comment About Your Personal Struggles Makes You More Approachable To Your Child.

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Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.

This article was originally published at Dr. PsychMom. Reprinted with permission from the author.