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How to talk to kids when you don't have the answers

Three guiding principles, according to a clinical psychologist and parenting coach

how to talk to children about uncertainty
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Uncertainty. It's the word of the hour. Whether in conversations about plans for school, emails about returning to work, or social media posts about politics, the word is everywhere. "There is so much we don't know," people say, and "these are unprecedented times." The phrase "uncharted territory" is, I would bet, getting more air play than it has in a very long time.

It's all true, of course. We are indeed living in a sea of uncertainty, which, as I wrote in my last post, our brains interpret as threat. Numerous articles have centered around how best to cope with the resulting anxiety.

But in addition to our own coping, the question of how to communicate uncertainty to our children remains.

Here are three guiding principles that can help you talk to your kids without having all the answers.


1. It's up to the grown-ups to start the conversation.

"My daughter hasn't asked about going back to school yet," a client recounted recently. "And so we haven't mentioned it." It's a familiar refrain, and as parents, we're all too happy to collude with our children's silence. This is particularly true when we don't have all of the information we think we need in order to communicate clearly and compellingly, or when—as in the case of school this year—we know things may change at any moment. But the idea that we need to have all our ducks in a row in order to begin conversations with our kids is a misconception, and a risky one. Why?

Conversations about things that are uncertain—say, in this case, plans for school—are everywhere these days. Chances are good that your child will overhear someone (maybe even you) talking about this, and will have questions. They will either keep their questions to themselves, having understood the implicit message that they are not supposed to know this information, or will come to you with their curiosity. Either way, the burden becomes theirs to carry, a reversal of roles that may well lead to a range of negative outcomes.

Over time, if this becomes a pattern, your child may ask themselves what else Mommy and Daddy may be keeping from them and learn to adopt a stance of hypervigilance, of scanning their environment for things they don't know about, things that may be dangerous—a way of being in the world highly associated with increased levels of anxiety and emotional/behavioral dysregulation.

So how do we start?

2. First and foremost, be honest.

Children need to know, on a deep, internal level, that their parents and caregivers are safe, that they can be trusted. In fact, this trust is foundational to the establishment of a secure attachment, which, in turn, is predictive of children's resilience and healthy social-emotional development moving forward. Setting this precedent—that we, as parents, can always be trusted—is, therefore, critical.

"We think we are going to stay out of the city for now," a parent told me during a recent consultation. "And so we are going to tell our son that his old preschool is closed. [Note: it is not closed.] It just seems like it will be too confusing otherwise."

Here's the thing, though. Few things are more confusing for children than having a parent lie. Would this child know their parent was lying in this case? Probably not (although there is certainly a chance they would find out). And yet, lying to our children is bucking a key parental responsibility: letting our children navigate the messiness of life, with all its complicated feelings, and showing them that we will be right there next to them as they do. I challenged this parent, as I would challenge all of us: Are you worried it will be too confusing for your child, or are you worried you will have a hard time tolerating your child's emotional reactions when you set a clear boundary—that, even though the old school is open, you, as the grown-ups in charge, are choosing not to send them?

Children take their cues from their parents. If you are not confused about a situation—if you present it clearly and in language they can understand—then they likely won't be either. This doesn't mean that they won't have feelings about it. But the message needs to be that we—as parents, as human beings—can handle big feelings. And so can they. We can do hard things, and we will do them together.

So what do we say instead? Exactly that.

3. Things are uncertain. And we can handle that.

There is what you say, and then there is how you say it; the distinction is essential. When we speak with our children about uncertainty, it's the latter—the way we phrase things, our tone of voice, our body language—that is most important. When discussing children's emotional dysregulation, psychologist Dr. Rebecca Kennedy often draws on the helpful analogy of a plane hitting turbulence, with a parent or caregiver in the pilot's seat. The analogy works here as well, although in this case it's all of the surrounding uncertainty, and not our children's emotional state, that is responsible for the plane's unsteadiness.

Picture yourself as a passenger on a plane that starts to tilt, dip and swerve as you're in flight. You feel anxious, unsure, scared. For the sake of this particular example, let's say that the pilot hasn't experienced this particular type of turbulence before, and doesn't know the exact navigation route.

In one scenario, the pilot gets on the intercom and says somewhat haltingly, "So, um, it seems there's some turbulence. Yeah... I'm not sure why. I've never encountered this sort of turbulence, and, uh, well, I'll figure it out. Please stay calm and quiet back there; I really need to concentrate and the noise is distracting."

Do these words instill a feeling of calm and confidence? No. The pilot is clearly hesitant and insecure—so much so that your anxiety, as a passenger, apparently holds the power to throw him off course.

In the next scenario, the pilot speaks clearly, assertively: "We have hit turbulence. I have piloted many planes through turbulence. I know it feels scary back there, but I assure you: this plane will land safely."

Even just hearing these words in my head helps my nervous system to settle. I feel taken care of, safe. We can do this—I may be scared and unsure, but there is an expert steering the ship who knows we'll be okay.

How do the pilot's words look when applied to our current uncertainty? Something like this:

"Things are uncertain. We don't know what is happening with your school, and even once we do know, things may change. I know this feels hard, sometimes for me too. But I have been through hard things before, and I know how to do it. I will be right here with you, and I will make sure we get through this."

Though we may be uncertain and scared, and perhaps unhappy about who is piloting our big, collective plane right now, our children need to know that we are the ones who are piloting their small one. And we will do everything in our power to ensure that the plane lands safely, turbulence and all.

This post originally appeared on Psychology Today

As much as I love fall, it always feels like the season when my family's routine gets kicked into overdrive. With our oldest in (homeschool) kindergarten, my youngest on the brink of entering her twos, work, housework and *all the things* filling my day, it's hard not to feel a little overwhelmed sometimes. Did I mention we're still in a pandemic? (Yeah, it's a lot.) And while I try to take a positive view as much as I can, now more than ever I definitely jump at the chance to take anything off my busy plate.

One thing first in line at the chopping block? Cooking. To be fair, I like cooking. I cooked most of our meals long before I had ever even heard of social distancing. But there's something about the pandemic that suddenly made cooking every single meal feel exponentially more draining.

Enter Daily Harvest. They deliver nourishing, delicious food right to your door. Daily Harvest's mix of smoothies, bowls, flatbreads, snacks and more provide a balanced, whole food options that are as satisfying as they are nutritious. But my favorite part? When we're ready to eat, I simply pull the food from the freezer and it's ready in minutes—without any chopping, measuring or searching for a recipe. Even better, they're incredibly tasty, meaning I'm not struggling to get my girls to dig in. Not cooking has never felt so good.

Here are my 8 favorite products that are helping to lighten my load right now:

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

One thing that actually helps break up the monotony of quarantine? Trying and introducing new ingredients to my family. I love this overnight oat bowl (add milk the night before and let it set in your fridge overnight—easy-peasy!) because not only does it not compromise on nutrition, but it also helps me bring new whole fruits, vegetables and superfoods to the table with ease.

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

I kid you not, these taste exactly like a mint chocolate chip milkshake. (Just ask my 4-year-old, who is constantly stealing sips from my glass.) What she doesn't know? She's actually getting organic banana, spinach and chlorella with every sip. #momwin

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Our family's eating habits have been leaning more plant-forward this year, which often means a lot of veggie washing, peeling and chopping every time I cook. That's why these flatbreads are my new best friend come lunchtime. This Kabocha + Sage Flatbread is made with a gluten-free cauliflower crust topped with kabocha squash, fennel and sage for a taste of fall in every bite. (Missing the cheese? You can add it before baking for more of a pizza feel.)

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

There's something about the combination of sweet potato crust topped with red cabbage, organic greens and an herby-cilantro sauce that is so delicious… like surprisingly delicious. I polished off this bad boy in seconds! And unlike other "veggie" crusts I've tried, these are actually clean (AKA no fillers, preservations, partially-hydrogenated oil or artificial anything). Plus, it couldn't be easier to throw in the oven between conference calls and homeschool lessons.

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Any time I get to serve a breakfast that tastes like chocolate, it's a good day. (That goes double when it's *my* breakfast.) This rich, chocolatey smoothie is packed with organic zucchini, avocado, pumpkin seeds and pea protein for a nourishing mix of healthy fats and muscle-building protein so I can carry that baby all day long. And did I mention the chocolate?

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Maybe it's just me, but after a long week of cooking, the last thing I want to do on Saturday morning is...wake up and cook. That's why these one-step breakfasts are saving my weekend. I simply add our favorite milk the night before and store the bowl in the fridge overnight. Come morning, I have a nutritious chia bowl that powers me through even the busiest day of errands. It's also Instagram-ready, which makes me feel like I'm out brunching (even if I can't remember the last time I was in a restaurant).

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

My kids have turned into snack monsters during quarantine, and I'm often struggling to find a wholesome option (that doesn't require a lot of extra cooking or else I resort to something ultra-refined and shelf-stable). These bites are the hero I never knew I needed. For one, they taste like cookie dough, but they're actually packed with chickpeas, pumpkin, dates and flax seed (among other whole ingredients). But unlike actual cookie dough, I don't have to go anywhere near my mixer to whip them up—all I have to do is pull the container out of the freezer, let them defrost a bit and we can all enjoy a treat.

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Sometimes I have a little more time to cook, but I still want a quick, stress-free solution. (Especially because it always feels like I just cleaned up from the last meal.) I love these Harvest Bowls because they warm up in under five minutes on the stove top (or microwave!) but pack tons of flavor. The Cauliflower Rice + Pesto bowl is one of my favorites, with basil, olive oil and nutritional yeast for a hearty dish reminiscent of a mouth-watering Italian meal. When I'm feeling extra fancy, I add leftover grilled chicken or a fried egg.

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Who doesn't want to end the day with a little something sweet? This creamy and decadent frozen treat from Daily Harvest is swirled with sweet berries and tropical dragonfruit for an antioxidant burst you'll feel good about—but that your kiddos will just think is ice cream. Go ahead, take credit for being the best mom ever.

Want to try it yourself? You can get $25 off your first box of Daily Harvest with code MOTHERLY.

This article was sponsored by Daily Harvest. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas

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Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on www.comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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A few years ago, while my wife's baby bump got bigger and my daddy reading list grew longer, I felt cautiously optimistic that this parenthood thing would, somehow, suddenly click one day. The baby would come, instincts would kick in, and the transition from established couple to a new family would be tiring but not baffling.

Boy was I wrong.

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