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Sharp Health News

Talking with your toddler about sensitive topics

Feb. 15, 2019

Talking with your toddler about sensitive topics

If you are the parent of a young child, you have probably avoided discussing sensitive topics when little ears are in the room, or fielded an embarrassing question in public. How can you encourage your child to come to you with questions and concerns, while avoiding uncomfortable talks in the grocery line?

Dr. Ahmad Bailony, department chief of pediatrics at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, shares some tips to diffuse a potentially embarrassing situation as well as encourage open communication.

How should parents answer a sensitive question when asked in public?
“Try to relax,” Dr. Bailony says. “Children even as young as toddlers can sense when you are stressed.” He recommends whispering in your child’s ear that you’ll continue the conversation later. “You could say, ‘When we get home, we can talk about this together and you can let me know why you asked that,’” he says.

How do you explain to a toddler which topics are appropriate to share with others?
Children don’t intentionally try to make others feel awkward. They are intensely curious and expand their understanding of the world by asking questions.

Have a conversation with your child about how to make others feel good. “Your actions are the best model,” says Dr. Bailony. “You have to set a good example when you are out with your child. Kids absorb our behaviors. Remember it is an ongoing process. Children will make mistakes. Be patient and work every day to learn from the last one.”

What can I discuss in front of my toddler?
Dr. Bailony believes that all topics are fine to discuss when done age appropriately. “Various studies show kids learn more from your behaviors than your words,” says Dr. Bailony. “If something comes up that is tough to deal with like a death in the family, your toddler will learn from your response to the situation.”

How do you know if a toddler is telling the truth?
Toddlers are not mature enough yet to know the difference between truth and imagination. “At this age, studies have shown that your toddler is trying to exert power,” explains Dr. Bailony. Try to avoid these power struggles.

If your child is lying, they are too young to punish. Instead, have a frank conversation about why lying is not acceptable.

How do you encourage a toddler to share information that might be embarrassing?
If your child gets embarrassed or may have information considered embarrassing, it is important not to dismiss their feelings, even if the situation that caused the reaction seems minor.

“If your child had an embarrassing moment playing with a friend, asking your question in a positive way may get them to open up to you,” Dr. Bailony says.

What are signs that a toddler is not telling you something that could be upsetting them?
A variety of physical changes may indicate an issue. You may notice your child is more aggressive than usual or does not want to play. Their sleep may be interrupted or some children become quiet. Each child is different so knowing your child’s normal behavior will help understand when something is wrong.

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