Navigating Tough Topics with Kids

Article by Kirsten Hitchcock May 17, 2021

When A Kid Brings Up A Difficult Topic
It can be hard to know what to say when a kid in our group brings up an awkward topic or situation. We are left wondering, “Where did that come from? How did we get here?” Many times, when a tough topic arises in discussion it can be easy to gloss over it and try to quickly move on to something else. But if we stop and think for a moment, we will soon realize that the kid bringing up the topic is doing it for a reason.

Provide Safety and Connection
Research into how to be supportive to kids shows that it all comes back to safety and connection. These are our two main needs as human beings. God created us this way, and it is something to embrace. When a kid feels safe and connected to a group of people, they will feel more open to sharing what is truly going on in their lives. This naturally leads them to revealing a secret worry or fear.

Reflect God’s Love
Kids can also relate the safety and connection we are creating to their understanding of what God is like. There is an opportunity and a charge as a leader to care for our kids, knowing that we are reflecting God to them. So how exactly do we care for each of our kids when a tough topic is brought up?

Follow These Steps
When you have a kid share something, follow these steps to navigate tough issues effectively: validate their emotions, ask open-ended questions and point back to Jesus.

Step 1: Validate Their Emotions
Have you ever been in a situation when you shared something incredibly meaningful to you or how you felt about something going on in your life, and it was met with silence? Or maybe even a “you shouldn’t feel that way” response? When a kid shares something vulnerable or unexpected, it is critical to validate what they are feeling in that moment. Allow space for kids to express their feelings, questions, fears or even doubts. Say something such as, “Thank you for sharing that with us. I am sure that wasn’t easy to share. It sounds like that is a very hard situation you are in.” It is important to also look them in the eyes as you say this. They need to hear and see your empathy for their situation.

Step 2: Ask Open-Ended Questions
It is very easy to jump into a “fix-it” mindset and not ask clarifying questions. We can also jump to conclusions without asking the right questions to assess the severity of what has been shared. Asking open-ended questions helps kids to think and reason through what they just shared.

Here are some suggested questions to ask:

  • Tell me what happened … ?
  • How do you know …?
  • Why do you think …?
  • What do you think will happen next …?
  • What does this make you think of …?
  • What does it remind you of …?
  • What makes you ask that question?

It is important to remember when asking any question of a kid, you need to give them time to respond. They may have just expressed something they were not expecting to have to explain.

Step 3: Point Back to Jesus
After you have been able to validate their feelings and hear more of their story, now is a time to remind them of the truth of who God is. Maybe that truth is related to the main idea of the lesson you are teaching on that day or maybe it is something that will be brand new for them. Sharing with them what you know to be true about the character of God through Scripture is what we, as leaders, can be grounded in as we navigate these conversations. We want to be sure we aren’t simply directing kids how they should react or what they should do, but are instead helping them discover how they can respond for themselves. “Let’s look at what the Bible says to be true about God.”

Here are things you can share about God’s character:

  • He will never leave you (Hebrews 13:5)
  • God responds to our prayers (Romans 8:28)
  • God will help you (Psalm 121:1-2)
  • God loves you (John 3:16-17)
  • God is trustworthy (Psalm 9:9-10)
  • God is faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9; Philippians 1:5-6)
  • God is always with you (Isaiah 41:10)
  • God is in control (Colossians 1:16-17)

Don’t Keep It to Yourself
It can be hard to know what to do in the moment an awkward topic comes up, but none of us is alone! We can start by knowing some simple steps to care well for each kid and assess the severity of the topic. And of course, we can always connect with the leader of our children’s ministries to inform them of the situation.