Safe means to protect from hurt and talk means to communicate. Therefore, safe talk means to protect from hurt by communicating! Parents are encouraged to talk with their children early on about peer pressure, alcohol, drugs and sex. There are billboards, commercials, seminars and books full of reminders to talk. How parents talk, however, is the key to whether or not they’re seen as approachable for safe talk. Words are powerful and the message they tell is absorbed early in life.
Words carry parents and children through whimsical conversations about how many stars light up the night sky; or talks about the amazing strength of flowers to emerge from underground, even though they feel so fragile to touch. Engaging a young child’s curiosity and imagination can be very entertaining when talking is natural, easy and safe.
Yet, what happens during an uncomfortable conversation? Body language and facial expressions have as much power as spoken words (and perhaps sometimes more). Any parent watching a teenager pout, roll their eyes or grunt in disgust can attest to that! Young children are susceptible to the power of unspoken messages too. When a parent is visibly uncomfortable with a conversation and shuts down, children shut down too. Communication breaks down and the topic becomes unapproachable. A precedent is set for which topics are safe to talk about and which ones are not.
During my workshops, adults illustrate the damage of unsafe talks, carrying needless pain from childhood: “When my mother was sick with cancer, no one talked about it…even though I was only eight they should’ve trusted me.” Trust is a valuable tool that anchors families. No matter how well intentioned, children are not protected in being sheltered; they are, in fact, denied the ability to make a viable difference. On the contrary, children are protected when parents talk about what’s comfortable and uncomfortable. Doing so helps everyone gain coping tools, acquire insight and establish trust in relationships. That is protection that lasts a lifetime.
Curiosity and imagination shouldn’t disappear in childhood…and neither should whimsical conversations. As children grow older, so will their hopes, dreams, curiosities and fears. Yet, they never outgrow the need for safe talks. Protect them by talking about peer pressure, alcohol, dating and sex—in age appropriate ways throughout their growing up years.
WRITTEN BY: Maryann Makekau, Author & Inspirational Speaker