- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2000

Being a parent offers joys as well as challenges from a baby's first steps to the curiosity of toddlers. Talking about tough issues with children is right up there as a major challenge of parenting.

Do not despair; there is a lot of help available, from books to a variety of Web sites.

The following list "10 Tips for Talking With Your Kids About Tough Issues" is published in a free booklet by Children Now, a California research and communications firm, and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a private family-foundation resource for information on health policy. The booklet also can be found on the Web at www.talkingwithkids.org.

• Start early. This is important because parents are the first sources children look to for information, advice and guidance. Once children enter the teen-age years, they tend to seek information from peers or the media.

• Initiate conversations with your child. Take advantage of opportunities, such as a TV show, to have a conversation about sex, drugs or violence. Talk to children at an age-appropriate level.

• Talk about sex and sexuality. This often is difficult for parents but nevertheless is necessary. Start when a child is a toddler by using proper names of the genitalia. Initiate conversations and discuss the topics at age-appropriate levels. Talk with children about the changes their bodies will go through as they reach puberty. Talk about the responsibilities and consequences of sexual activity.

• Create an open environment. Be encouraging, supportive and positive so children feel comfortable asking any questions. Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know" and explore a topic with a child. Also, it's OK to buy breathing time, but not to dismiss a question. Be sure there is a follow-up answer for the child.

• Communicate family values. Parents have the first opportunity to instill a sense of values and moral principles in their children.

• Listen to children. Find time to give undivided attention to children and let them know they are important.

• Be honest. Providing honest answers strengthens a child's ability to trust.

• Be patient. Children need to know they are worth a parent's time.

• Use everyday opportunities to talk. Use moments that arise in daily life to have a discussion about a news items, a public service commercial or a TV show.

• Talk again and again. Conversations should be frequent but not lengthy so the child doesn't feel they are lectures.

When talking about drugs and alcohol with children, start early. Starting at age 6 or 7 is not too soon, but keep it short and simple. As children get older, they need more specific information. Also, it helps to set a good example for children.

In "How to Say It to Your Kids," Paul Coleman, a psychologist and family therapist, suggests that parents need to let the child know he or she can come to them and the parents will not get mad. He also says parents should teach children appropriate ways to say no to peer pressure.

But what if a parent suspects a child is using drugs or alcohol?

Dr. John Evaldson, a child psychiatrist, offers this advice: Calm down before talking. Get aligned with the child and use words and actions to let the child know this is a problem you will face together. He says the key is showing the child that he is not alone. Dr. Evaldson says, "Having a parent react in a way the kid doesn't expect creates an opportunity to build a bridge of talking about it together."

Violence is another issue that permeates the culture. Children often fear the threat of violence at school. A free booklet available on line at the Talking With Kids Web site (www.talkingwithkids.org) provides tips for parents.

Child specialists recommend monitoring the media because of the violence depicted. Limiting TV viewing to programs parents find appropriate is another suggestion from the Web site.

Dr. Robert Needlman, a developmental behavioral pediatrician, says he questions whether children should be watching TV. "Parents need to control the flow and images kids get," he says.

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