Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The Tough Conversations

One of the things I love doing on this blog is writing guides on various topics, from the best places to eat to how to pick out a good school. One of the things I have no guide or magic recipe for is how to have the really tough conversations with children. There are all sorts of topics that are slowly creeping up- ranging from body awareness, sexuality, death, current affairs, race and so many others. I definitely don't have it all figured out yet and would love other parent's input on these topics.


Noodle is five and is discovering more and more about the big, crazy, sometimes scary world around her. She knows that she can talk to us about anything that is bothering her and that we will answer her questions. However, the answers are getting harder and harder. While I want to wrap her in cotton wool and retain her innocence forever, there are some conversations about the big scary world around her that are inevitable and we are busy trying to find a balance between just letting her be a child and equipping her with knowledge to survive out there.

The 'don't talk to strangers' conversation is one of the tough ones that I don't have completely figured out. You don't want to stop children from talking to strangers entirely as there are of course situations that warrant talking to strangers and you also don't want to create a scenario where your child is petrified that every stranger out there is a child snatcher. 

What I have taught my daughter is not to give out personal information with strangers, not to get into a car or go off with anyone and to let us know if any adult says anything to her that makes her feel uncomfortable. Is this enough? I am not sure.

The 'body' talk is also one that slowly needs to happen. I have made a point of teaching my children the correct names for their private parts and which areas are private. I may have taken it a bit far with Noodle because now even dad is not allowed to see her even partially undressed, even in emergency situations. The talks about sexuality have not quite started but I am nervously preparing myself for. My children both know that girls and boys have different bodies but not the reasons for this. When Squish was born (she was still three), Noodle learnt that you need a mommy and daddy who love each other very much before the Almighty puts a baby in the mommy's tummy. (How he got out was also easy to explain with a c-section). The thought that in just a few years time, my little baby will start growing little boobies and menstruating freaks me out just a little bit so I know the conversations surrounding that need to happen in due course.

Noodle is also becoming more and more aware of current affairs- she hears things on the news headlines as we are driving and asks me about them. I want to provide her with the facts but I also don't want her to be scared of every aweful thing happening out there. Usually I end up giving her a slightly sanitised version of the actual occurrence. How does one strike a balance? She has to live in this world and be aware of her surroundings but I also don't want her living in constant fears of murderers and rapists.

Then race is an interesting one. We have tried to raise our children in a way where race is not seen as an issue and to some extent we have succeeded but I was of course deluded into thinking this would always be the case. Squish is still oblivious to race, being the little Indian toddler with a white child and a black child as his two best friends. Noodle has now started becoming aware that there are differences in the appearances of people but thankfully has not picked up on the discrimination part of it. 

Hubby and I found it highly amusing when Noodle came to us last year excitedly, telling dad how she had met an Indian person for the first time (we had ended up having a conversation with a lady from India in a queue somewhere). On this topic, we eventually let her know that South Africans all look different because their ancestors came from different parts of the world, that we have different hair and skin types but that all are to be celebrated. We let her know that her great great grandparents were from India and that while we are South African, we are also classified as 'Indian' because of where our ancestors came from. Subsequent to that conversation, in the last month or two she has picked up on some things that I did not expect, like saying that only brown skinned people are domestic workers and that I can't send her to her school's aftercare because only the brown children go there (this one surprised me).

Sadly, the reality is that even many years into democracy, racism does still exist in South Africa (recent news headlines make that much apparent). Adult South Africans are acutely aware of race and so are some of the children I know (Noodle has discovered race only on a very superficial level but I have heard older children refer to race in no uncertain terms). I know racists of all colours and while I want to protect my little girl from this reality for as long as possible, I am not sure this is possible. How have you broached this topic?

How much do you tell your children about all these issues? How much do you protect them from reality? I would really appreciate feedback from readers on this one.