Creative places to have big talks

Jan 2, 2009 at 11:59 a.m. ET

I always laugh when I see those commercials on television with a kid sitting on the living room couch, and the parents across from them, ready to have a "big talk." While I suppose that scenario can be called ideal, it's never happened here. Our "big talks" seem to happen anywhere except in such a formal setting.

Mom and Son Talking and Walking

There are so many important "big" talks we need to have with our children, starting when they are very young. There are the body safety talks, followed later by talk involving reproductive details and sexuality. There are the drug and alcohol talks, the peer pressure talks, and a myriad others. It seems I always have one such talk per kid on my general to do list. I also find that, since we do have busy family with more than one child, quiet living room moments with one child are rare indeed. If we were to try that living room setting, another of the kids would be interrupting within 30 seconds.

Recognizing opportunities

Because I always seem to have at least two of my three kids with me at any given moment, I have come to cherish moments when it's just me and one child. While most of the time I just enjoy those moments, they are also prime times for deeper conversations and, yes, even the big talks.

Recently, Woody had a sore throat and I took him to the pediatrician to have his throat swabbed for strep (negative, thankfully). He wasn't overly I seized the moment and we had a little talk about how adolescent bodies change (and tried not to laugh when I saw his look of horror in the rear view mirror). I'd been meaning to find time for months, yet no time had really presented itself until then. It was a good talk. I'm glad we started that conversation.

It also had me thinking, though, about how kids often find these moments, too, to ask big questions. Over the years I've occasionally been taken aback by some of what the boys have asked when we have this one-on-one time - and they probably have been taken aback when I've brought up subjects in the same way. Just as we recognize opportunities, so do they.

Manufacturing opportunities

When a conversation has been more urgent - not on the general to do list - I have had to manufacture solo opportunities. Asking my son to join me on an errand or for a walk with the dog have been great ploys to bring up serious issues - though I can't do big talks each time I ask for company or he would never agree!

I remember one long walk in particular in which Alfs tried to convince me, after our initial "big" talk, that we really wanted to adopt another child. That led to more conversation, which prompted me to lengthen our walk...and before we knew it, we'd walked almost four miles, and had a very productive conversation. It was a really good day.

A continuing conversation

Regardless of when and where you have the big talks with your kids, it is important to reduce distractions so that you really have a captive audience. Try to allow enough time for the conversation to play out - but if you have to cut it a little short, that's often okay. These talks shouldn't be one time things, but parts of larger conversations and communications between you and your child.

Whether you have the talk in your living room, in the car, on a walk, while raking leaves, or over a dish of ice cream, it's most important that you have the conversations with your kids at all. If you are stumbling over finding that living room time, stop stumbling and just take advantage of moments where you find them. You will be glad you did.

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