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How to Talk to Kids About Difficult Subjects

In a world where even little kids learn about horrific subjects, it’s important for parents to put things in perspective, field questions, and search for answers together.
One of the toughest jobs of parenting is talking to your kids about difficult subjects.

Addressing the tough stuff makes your kids feel safer, strengthens your bond, and teaches them about the world. And when you show them how to gather and interpret information, ask questions, and cross-check sources, they become critical thinkers. It’s always sad to confront the issues the world hasn’t been able to solve. But by investing our kids with knowledge, compassion, and strong character, we can give them all the tools they need to make things better.

The following tips (based on childhood-development guidelines) are excerpted from “How to Talk to Kids About Difficult Subjects”  by Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media’s parenting editor.

Age 2–6

Young children don’t have enough life experience to understand some of the elements involved in complex, difficult topics. They also don’t have a firm grasp on abstract concepts and cause and effect. Because they and their primary relationships (Mom, Dad, siblings, grandparents — even the family dog) are the center of their world, they focus on how things affect them. They’re very sensitive to parents’ emotional states and can worry that they did something to make you upset. All of this makes it challenging to explain big issues. On the other hand, you’re better able to manage their media exposure, and they can usually move on fairly quickly.

Age 7–12

Because kids in this age group can read and write, they get exposed to age-inappropriate content more often — but younger kids in this range are still a little shaky on what’s real and pretend. As kids gain abstract-thinking skills, real-world experience, and the ability to express themselves, they can grapple with difficult subjects and understand different perspectives. Because tweens are separating from their parents, entering into puberty, and interacting with media more independently, they come into contact with violent video games, hard-core pornography, distressing news like mass shootings, and online hate speech. They need to be able to discuss things without feeling shame or embarrassment.


At this age, teens are engaged in media independently — reading it, interacting with it, and even making their own and sharing it in the form of comments, videos, and memes. They often hear about difficult subjects in the news or from other places, such as in video game chats or on social media, without your knowledge. They’re much more interested in what their friends or online folks think about an issue than in your opinion — often scrolling to the bottom of an article to read user responses before they even read the whole story. They bristle at lectures — because they think they know everything — so encourage them to find media that can enrich their knowledge and ask questions that prompt them to think through their arguments.

Read the full post on the Common Sense Media website for targeted strategies for discussing any difficult subject with kids age 2 through teen.

Source: Common Sense Media | How to Talk to Kids About Difficult Subjects, https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/how-to-talk-to-kids-about-difficult-subjects | © 2020 Common Sense Media

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