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How to talk with your children about difficult topics at any age—from 2-year-olds to teenagers

One of the toughest jobs of parenting is talking to your kids about difficult subjects. It's hard enough to explain when Mr. Teddy Bear gets eaten by the washing machine. Or, how their bike got stolen at school. But, it feels impossible to put into words the really big issues, such as violence, racism, drugs and other weighty topics.


But in the age of cell phone notifications, streaming video, and 24-hour news coverage—when even little kids are exposed to really serious stories—it's important to face this challenge head-on.

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.

When your kids learn about something scary or unsettling, say, a mass shooting, a suicide on a popular TV show, or a graphic porn via an innocent Google search, most parents get that deer-in-the-headlights feeling. But it's always a good idea to use your kid's age and developmental stage as a guide to starting conversations, because they absorb information differently as they grow from babies to teens.

For example, young children are very literal. If you tell them a monster is under the bed, they'll fly across the room to avoid getting their ankles munched. Try that with a teen, and they'll tell you to take a flying leap. Understanding a bit about how kids perceive the world in each phase of their development helps you deliver information about it in the most age-appropriate way. Of course, every child brings his or her own sensitivities, temperament, experience and other individual traits to any conversation. So use your best judgment as to how your child tends to takes in information to determine how deep to go.

The tips below are general guidelines for discussing any difficult subject with kids age two through teen based on childhood-development guidelines.

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 or cause and effect. Because they and their primary relationships (mama, 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.

  • Keep the news at bay. Do what you can to limit small kids' exposure to age-inappropriate subjects by turning off or muting the TV and choosing media that's targeted to their age.
  • Reassure with both words and gestures. Say, "you're safe. Mommy and daddy are safe. And our family is safe." Hugs and snuggling work wonders, too.
  • Address feelings—yours and theirs. Say, "It's okay to feel scared, sad, or confused. Those feelings are natural and we all feel them." Also try: "I'm upset, but not with you."
  • Find out what they know. Your kids might not understand the issue very well. Ask them what they think happened before giving them any imagery.
  • Break down issues to their simplest terms. For violent crime, you can say, "Someone used a gun to hurt people." For hate crimes, try, "Some groups of people still aren't treated equally or fairly."
  • Catch your own biases. We all have them. Say, "man," "woman," "girl," and "boy," not "fat guy," "homeless lady," "pretty little girl," or "white boy." Avoid describing a person's ethnicity, sexual identity, weight, financial status, and so on unless it's relevant to the issue.
  • Use vocabulary, ideas and relationships that they're familiar with. Recall a recent, similar situation from their lives that they can relate to. Say, "A man stole something. Remember when someone took your lunchbox?"
  • Use basic terms for feelings such as "mad," "sad," "afraid," "happy" and "surprised." Young children understand emotions, but they don't totally understand mental illness. You can say that someone was angry too much or confused too much and needed extra help. Avoid idiomatic expressions such as "blew a gasket" or "flew the coop."
  • Communicate that someone's in charge. Say, "Mommy and daddy will make sure nothing bad happens to our family." Or, "The police will catch the bad guy."

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, pornography, distressing news and hate speech. They need to be able to discuss things without feeling shame or embarrassment.

  • Wait for the right moment. At this age, kids are still very likely to come to you if they've heard about something frightening. You can feel them out to decide if they want to discuss something, but if they don't bring it up, don't feel you have to broach difficult subjects until they ask.
  • Find out what they know. Ask your kids what they've heard, or if their friends at school are talking about something. Answer questions simply and directly, but try not to over-explain—that could make them more scared.
  • Create a safe space for discussion. Say, "these topics are hard to discuss, even for adults. Let's just talk. I won't be mad, and I want you to feel free to ask anything you want."
  • Provide context and perspective. Kids need to understand the circumstances around an issue to fully make sense of it. For a mass shooting, you can say, "the person who did this had problems in his brain that confused his thoughts." For race-based crimes, try, "some people wrongly believe that light-skinned people are better than dark-skinned people. Without the correct information, they sometimes commit crimes they think are justified."
  • Address their curiosity. If your kid stumbles across grown-up material online, it might be time to find content that will let them learn about more mature subjects age-appropriately. Say, "online pornography is something that some grown-ups look at. But it's not about love or romance and it can give you the wrong idea about sex. If you want to learn more about sex, I can give you some books to look at and we can talk more if you have questions." Or if your kid wants to explore serious topics in more depth than you can provide, say, "let's find some news sources that offer current events written for kids."
  • Be sensitive to kids' emotions and temperament. You never know what may trigger your kid. Check in by sharing how you feel and ask them how they feel. Say, "I feel angry when I know that someone got hurt." Or, "It makes me feel sad to hear that someone didn't get a good education or the right treatment to help them." And, "what are you feeling right now?"
  • Encourage critical thinking. Ask open-ended questions to get kids to think more deeply about serious topics. Ask, "what did you hear?," "what did it make you think?," and "why do you think that?" For older kids, you can ask, "do you think families from other backgrounds would view this the same way as us?"
  • Look for positives. There may not be a silver lining to every cloud, but try to be optimistic. Say, "a lot of people acted like heroes at the crime scene." Or, "let's find ways that we can help."

Teens

At this age, teens are engaged in media independently by 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, like 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 can bristle at lectures because they think they know best so encourage them to find media that can enrich their knowledge and ask questions that prompt them to think through their arguments.

  • Encourage open dialogue. Teens need to know that they can ask questions, test their opinions and speak freely without fear of consequences. Say, "we may not agree on everything, but I'm interested in what you have to say."
  • Ask open-ended questions and ask them to support their ideas. Say, "what do you think about police brutality?," "what do you know about it?," "who do you think is at fault?," and "why do you think that?"
  • Admit when you don't know something. As kids move into the teen phase, it's okay for them to see that their parents may not have all the answers. Say, "I don't know. Let's try to find out more."
  • Get them to consider the complexities in difficult subjects. Forces including social issues, politics and tradition all contribute to making some problems seem incurable. Ask, "what makes difficult issues, such as rape, violence and crime so hard to solve?," "what key things would need to change to fix certain issues, such as poverty?," "how do policymakers get to the bottom of an issue to correct tough problems?," and "should we accept tiny changes that help a problem little by little or insist on big changes?"
  • Share your values. Let your kids know where you stand on issues and explain why you hold certain values. If you want your teens to be respectful of others' differences, for example, explain why you value tolerance and acceptance.
  • Talk about "their" news. Prompt them to consider how different sources put their own spin on the issues and how that influences an audience's opinion of an issue. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat tend to serve up content from friends with stories that tend to confirm one point of view. How do these stories compare to news broadcasts on TV? How about sources designed for millennials, like Vice and Vox that feature reporters investigating stories in the trenches? Ask, "does a reporter have to experience that situation to be able to report a story on opiate addiction?"
  • Ask what they would do if they were in a really difficult situation? Teens are figuring out their own identities and can seek out risk. Considering how they would act if confronted with a terrible reality appeals to their own sense of adventure and is a way to get them to grapple with ethical dilemmas and see themselves making good choices. Say, "if you were caught in a political demonstration that turned violent and you saw people being mistreated, what would you do?"
  • Get them to consider solutions. Teens can be cynical, but they can also be idealistic. If anything is going to get better, it's this generation who's going to do it. Show them that you trust them for the job. Ask, "If you were in charge, what issue would you solve first and why -- and how would you do it?"

Originally posted on Common Sense Media.

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Burnout is something we all experience and stress from your finances may play a major part in that. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to combat financial fatigue and finally feel like you're in a positive relationship with your money.

Here are a few tips that will help to reduce your money stress—to ensure that you're equipped with an actionable plan to take control of your finances and finally meet your money goals.

1. Know where you stand

The best way to counteract getting overwhelmed is getting organized. First thing's first: rip off the band-aid, look at how much your household has spent (and on what). Spend time checking your bills and looking at your bank account balance and credit statements to get a clear picture of where your finances are at.

2. Adjust your budget

Rewrite your budget to fit your current reality. Budgeting can help you see where you can cut unnecessary expenses and increase flexibility in your family's choices down the line. If you have to tighten your belt for the first month or so of the year to ensure you're paying back your holiday debts, so be it.

If budgeting feels overwhelming, start with an app that can simplify it. Mint, for example, allows you to create budgets that make sense for you. You Need a Budget breaks down your spending as well.

3. Take action to boost your credit score

Here are three ways to do just that:

  1. Set up autopay: Whether or not you make payments on time is the most important element in the calculation of your credit score. As long as you pay your bills on or before the deadline, your score will be in good standing. Turbo is a great, free resource to monitor how your credit score is affected by your bill payments.
  2. Know your credit utilization: Something that we don't always take into consideration is our credit utilization. Your credit utilization is the ratio of your credit card balances to credit limits. If you're using your credit cards responsibly and paying bills on time, you will lower your credit utilization percentage, thus increasing your credit score.
  3. Keep old accounts open: Your credit age makes up 15% of your credit score, and the only way to increase the age is to keep old accounts open and avoid opening new ones.

4. Set clear goals and hold yourself accountable

Does your family have big vacation plans, or maybe a new house is on the horizon? Make sure that you're considering both short and long-term goals early on, so they don't creep up on you. Be honest with yourself from the get-go so you can plan and prepare for your upcoming expenses. Once you've set your goals and your focus is on getting back on track, hold yourself accountable by setting regular check-ins to track your progress.

5. Be easy on yourself

Events, like the holidays, birthdays or vacation are meant to be celebrated, and that means festivities, fun and (maybe) some frivolousness. Don't beat yourself up if your bank account looks different than you expected after they're over. As long as you're actively working toward your financial goals, being consistent and being patient with yourself, your bank statements (and financial fatigue) will even out.

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Baby clothes are SO cute.

Maybe it's because they are typically either designed to make children look like little bears or mini-adults. Or maybe it's because they're just so tiny? 🤷 Any which way you look at it, they're beyond adorable. I mean—what human can resist an infant who looks like a tiny, soft bunny?

Cute as they are, they're also kind of pricey. And babies grow quickly, which means they need new sizes quickly. Oh, and also they get poop and spit-up on a lot of stuff, and then they eventually graduate to stains that are of the paint and peanut butter variety.

The lesson? The cost of baby clothes (and don't get me started on shoes that fit them for two seconds) adds up, but on the other hand—with the amount they grow and stain things—you sort of feel like you need a lot and that you're always looking for the next size stuff.

I swear, I just brought up the 18-month clothes, but now I need to get the 24-month size clothes out. (How is such a large part of motherhood constantly cycling through clothing that fits/doesn't fit your baby anymore?)

Cue: Hand-me-downs.

I found out the sex of my babies each of the three times I was pregnant: girl, girl, and then girl again. So, let's just say, we have gotten our money's worth with children's clothes over the years. Plus, my kids have cousins around the same ages so we've gotten a fair share of hand-me-downs from them, along with random pieces like snowsuits or extra swaddle blankets from friends. They've all been a godsend.

I've always been kind of sentimental about clothes—I can often tie memories to what I was wearing. My 21st birthday party? That very short blue and green floral number. The night my husband proposed to me? An ugly work outfit that I changed out of before we went out to dinner to celebrate (😂). My hospital stay for my youngest daughter? New black pajamas I treated myself to.

But somehow—likely the extreme cuteness levels—baby clothes kick the sentimental levels up about a hundred notches.

I remember the first piece of baby clothing I got as a gift when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter. It was a sweet pink one piece with a little teddy bear in the center. It had an eyelet detail to it and the feet looked like little bear paws. My mom gave it to me the night we told our families that we were having a little girl.

I remember imagining how the tiny little human inside me would be able to fit into this tiny little outfit.

I remember imagining what it would be like to button her into it and hold her while wearing it.

I remember finally dressing her in it and marveling at how amazing all of this was. I was a mother, and this was my baby.

I remember buying each of my children's coming home outfits and what they wore for their first Christmas. I remember seeing each of them in specific outfits that the other one wore, truly in awe that this was a new human we created, in the same outfit the other human we created wore.

I remember putting a hand-me-down sweater on my daughter that was once her father's sweater. I never knew clothes could melt my heart until that day. Seeing some of the one piece pajamas my girls wore all the time—like those monkey jams and the multicolored striped Zutano onesie—bring me back to the time of my life when I was a "new mom" again.

But then I remember thinking, okay, we have a LOT of clothes, and we can't keep them all. Even if we have another baby at some point down the road, we need to get rid of a lot of stuff now. It's overwhelming.

So, as Marie Kondo might advise, I've sorted through the clothes that no longer fit my kids and I've kept the pieces that still spark joy. Those pieces are now used as doll clothes or are safely tucked away in my children's memory boxes in the basement so that they can have them when they're older.

The rest? We have either passed them on as hand-me-downs to other families or we've donated them. And honestly, giving another family who could use our hand-me-downs (we've spared them the ones with poop and spit-up stains!) feels just as great, if not greater, than scoring helpful hand-me-downs for your own kiddos.

It's one way the village is there for you in motherhood. I can't, unfortunately, get to my sister and my niece five hours away from me to drop off a container of soup for dinner or to take her to the park to give my sister a break for an hour—but I can pack up my daughter's clothes and bring them down the next time we visit.

In the busyness of our day-to-day, my friend and I can't nail down a time to get the kids together—but she can lend me a snowsuit for my youngest to use—coming in the clutch and saving me about $50.

Getting a bag of hand-me-downs from another mom is equivalent to getting a big, genuine hug from a mama who knows how hard this all can be. She is thinking of you, reaching out to you and extending a helping hand. And the best part is that this helping-hand-me-down chain can continue because the clothes she gives you can then be passed along to another mama and so on and so on.

Who knew that these little cute pieces of clothing could connect us all in such a gushy, beautiful way?

To all the mothers who have passed their hand-me-downs on to another mama in need—thank you. Keep on thinking of ways to help your fellow moms when you can, because we really are all on this wild ride together.

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Christmas Eve is a rare birthday, and it's a fitting birthday for a baby girl who was a gift to her own family, and those of other sick babies.

When Krysta Davis was four months pregnant with her daughter, Rylei Arcadia Lovett, Krysta and her husband Dereck got some heartbreaking news. Baby Rylei had Anencephaly. Her brain was underdeveloped to a fatal degree. Doctors gave Krysta the option of having Rylei then, in her second trimester, or carrying her to term so that her tiny organs could be donated to babies who needed them.

"If I wasn't able to bring my baby home, at least others could bring theirs home," Davis told ABC affiliate News Channel 9.

As heartbroken as she was, Krysta carried her baby girl for five more months, giving her body time to grow the organs that would be such an amazing gift to families who were in a kind of pain the Lovetts know all too well.

Doctors told the couple that Rylei would probably live for about 30 minutes after birth, but Rylei held on for an entire week. "There's no way to describe how amazing it felt. When you go to thinking you'll only have 30 minutes with your child and you get an entire week," Davis told News Channel 9.

For that week, Rylei got all the cuddles and skin-to-skin contact a baby could ask for. "I wouldn't trade this week for anything in the whole wide world," she wrote on a Facebook page dedicated to Rylei's memory, adding that she was so proud of her daughter and the fight she put up.



Rylei was then taken for surgery, and although some of her organs were no longer viable due to oxygen loss, some very important ones were.

"They said her heart valves will go toward saving two other babies and the lungs will be sent off for research to see what else can be learned about Anencephaly from them," Krysta wrote.

Krysta and Dereck only got to hold onto their baby for a week. It's not fair and that pain is unimaginable. But now, two other families will get to hold their babies for a lot longer. It can't take away Krysta's pain, but it does make her happy to know that somewhere, another mama is holding a little piece of Rylei.

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One morning, after a rousing rendition of up-every-two-hours-with-a-teething-baby, bleary-eyed and fully-caffeinated, I texted my best friend:

I am 100% done having children. I can't do this again.

She came through with some sympathetic words, mood-lightening emojis and a gentle reminder that this is temporary. "It's the fatigue talking," she suggested.

But no, it wasn't just the fatigue talking. That morning, sitting like a zombie in my office cube, I meant it. The night before, as I rocked my youngest and stroked her wispy baby curls, I knew I was done.

She chewed on her fingers and looked up at me with wide eyes and a tear-stained face. We locked eyes, and while I didn't resent her at that moment (how could I?), I did feel a sense of finality with this stage of motherhood.

I realized that I'm ready to move on. I'm ready to watch her grow into a person and move beyond the baby years.

Eventually, life moved beyond that evil emerging molar, and we settled back into our routine. I returned to being a functioning member of my team at work. And at home, I'd catch myself smiling, looking at my two girls as they played together with my husband. This is what our family is meant to look like, I thought. Life is loud and full and happy. I don't need anything else.

Then, one night as we were getting ready for bed, after a visit with some friends who are expecting their first baby, my husband said it: "I miss when you were pregnant."

My heart raced a little—surely he didn't mean it. He must just be having a weak moment after seeing our friends with their baby. HE had been the one who was adamant that two children was enough for us. HE had been the one to quickly shut down any "what ifs" that I'd raised. How could he be saying this right after I told myself we were done?

So, I reminded him. "No, you don't. You don't miss my cankles or carpal tunnel syndrome or my high blood pressure. Or my complaining and flopping around trying to get comfortable in bed with no less than six pillows. Really, you don't."

But he missed the other stuff, he said. The magic of it all—feeling the baby move, wondering if it was a boy or a girl and what our family dynamic would be like when the baby arrived. "Relax," he'd said. He was just being wistful. He assured me that there were no more babies are in our future.

As he rolled over that night and went to sleep (easily, might I add), I lay awake reliving his words. I knew what he meant. Growing a family together is a special time, one filled with awe. After this particular conversation, I was 75% sure we were done having kids.

Life settled back in again, but this time my 4-year-old threw me. She climbed up on the couch, into my lap, and put her arms around my neck.

"Mommy," she sighed and paused dramatically as though a big proclamation was looming. She pulled back and looked me in the eyes, "I'd like a brother."

I laughed it off and explained that she had a sister, which was so great. I only had a sister, Daddy only had a sister and we are all very happy people. She brushed me off after a couple of minutes and ran off to play.

But then I found myself thinking. What's one more kid, really? We know what we're doing. We'd be so much more relaxed. We already have a minivan for cryin' out loud!

In my heart of hearts, I believe we are done. I'm grateful for what I have and I love our family, but there are small moments where I catch myself wondering if a little boy would round us out. If we just waited until our youngest was a little older…

It's these moments of second guessing myself—the wondering, the daydreaming—that get me. But it's also the big moments of practicality and reason (hello, day care costs) that then reel me back in. We're doing fine just the way we are.

So, like I said…

That's how I know I'm 50% sure we're done having children. 😜

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