Talk To Your Kids

Menstuff® has compiled information and booklets on the issue of Talking to Your Kids About Tough Issues.


Whom do You want Your Children to Learn about Sex From?
Talking With Kids About Tough Issues Special Focus on Dads

How to Talk to Your Kids About Anything



Whom do You want Your Children to Learn about Sex From?

Here's a list. For your own information: (1) Rank the list with 10 being the most important teacher. (2) Rank the list with 10 being who you think is currently teaching them the most about sex. And, if you think they don't already know quite a bit about sex, whether it is correct information or not, think again!

Who Should Teach Your Children About Sex?






Your Significant Other















Potential lover



Community clinic/Planned Parenthood



Home for Unwed Mothers



Juvenile Hall



Talking With Kids About Tough Issues Special Focus on Dads

The Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Children Is To Be Their Dad

Parents agree that open parent/child communication is invaluable when raising children. Yet, when kids sit down and talk to parents about tough issues like violence, sex, alcohol/drugs, and HIV/AIDS, they are more often sitting with mom than with dad. This may have more to do with fathers missing conversation opportunities or avoiding certain topics than with a lack of connection between dads and their kids. In an effort to separate fact from fiction, shed some light on father-child communication, and provide some tools for initiating conversations, the Talking with Kids about Tough Issues Campaign (a national effort to support parents by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Children Now) has teamed up with the National Fatherhood Initiative and ESPN to create this special focus on Dads.

The Kaiser Family Foundation and Children Now conducted a national survey of 10 to 15 year olds and parents of 10 to 15 year olds in the fall of 1998 to find out whether kids and parents were talking about tough issues like violence, sex, alcohol/drugs and HIV/AIDS. Below are some of the survey findings regarding dads.

How Strong Are Dads' Influence, and Are Kids Comfortable Talking to Dad about Tough Issues?

According to parents, fathers have a strong influence on how their kids think about these issues, albeit slightly less than the influence of mothers. Kids say dads are a good, credible source of information on difficult issues. A majority of kids ages 10 to 15 feel that their father has a good understanding of issues such as AIDS, violence, sex and alcohol, and rank their mothers' understanding just slightly higher than their fathers.

While kids ages 10 to 15 say they are generally more able to talk to mom than dad when something is bothering them, many report they are equally comfortable talking with either parent about certain tough issues. Over a third say they are equally comfortable talking to mom or dad about AIDS, alcohol and drugs, and about how to handle violent situations. Regarding the issue of violence, many kids prefer to talk to their dads.

On the topic of sex, more kids 10-15 prefer to talk to mom than dad. However, it is interesting to note that boys answer differently than girls on this issue. Regarding sex-related topics, boys are fairly evenly divided among those who are most comfortable with mom, dad or either parents, while girls are much less comfortable talking with dad about these issues.

Do Dads Talk with Their Kids about Tough Issues?

Fathers today are talking with their kids about some tough issues but are avoiding others; also, they still lag behind mom in dealing with most of these issues. Most fathers (eight in ten) report talking with their kids about a range of tough issues, including the basics about drugs, alcohol and violence. However, only about half of dads are talking to their kids about the basics of reproduction and less than half are talking about AIDS, relationships, when to become sexually active and how to prevent pregnancy and STDs. Furthermore, topics like what to do if someone brings a gun to school, how to handle peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol, and what AIDS is and how its spread are only being discussed by 1 in 5 dads. So there is a lot of room for dads to make themselves open to more topics and start talking about them with their kids.

The good news is that dads who are having conversations are proactively initiating them, rather than waiting for their kids to come to them first. If kids sense their parents are apprehensive about discussing certain topics, they will be less likely to speak openly and honestly. Parents who initiate tough conversations themselves show they aren't shy and are willing to talk frankly with their kids.

When Dads Do Talk, Kids Listen and Learn

Kids are glad to hear from their parents. Among those who have had conversations with dad, either alone or with their other parent, 9 out of 10 reported having a positive experience. They felt they received good ideas and that the conversations were helpful overall. Even during talks about sex, where kids said dad was less comfortable having the conversation, kids still thought talking was helpful.

Talk Opportunities

With daughters, dads should look to everyday talk opportunities, rather than wait for an incident at home or in the community, to prompt a conversation. Open communication about tough issues like violence, drugs and alcohol can help create an environment in which their daughter feels more comfortable talking with them, even about sex. And, if she isn't comfortable talking with dad about sex in particular, the conversations will likely increase her comfort with going to dad when faced with other tough issues.

With sons, dads need to take advantage of the fact their sons are comfortable talking with them about all issues, including sex. Taking advantage of everyday talk opportunities like car rides, a TV show or a homework assignment will create time to delve beyond the basics into the issues on which their sons wish to learn more.

As you can see, kids definitely want more information from their parents!

What Kids Want to Know, What Parents Don't Talk About

Percent of Kids and Parents Who Say... Kids Ages 10-12 Want

More Info About Topic Parents of 10-12 Yr. Olds Who Never Talked About

Kids Need to Know More
(1) Percent of Kids 10-12 wanting more information, (2) Percent of parents who never talk about it


How to handle potentially violent situations



How to know when you are ready to have sex


How to handle peer pressure to use drugs/alcohol


How to protect against AIDS/STDs


What to do if someone brings a gun to school


How to prevent pregnancy and STDs


What STDs are


How to handle pressure to have sex


How alcohol/drugs might affect decisions to have sex


What AIDS is


What kinds of birth control are available




How girls get pregnant


Drinking and driving


Source: Kaiser Family Foundation/Children Now Talking With Kids About Tough Issues, A National Survey of Parents and Kids conducted September 15-October 3, 1998

Kids Still Need to Know More
(1) Percent of Kids 13-15 wanting more information, (2) Percent of parents who never talk about it


How to handle potentially violent situations



How to know when you are ready to have sex


How to handle peer pressure to use drugs/alcohol


How to protect against AIDS/STDs


What to do if someone brings a gun to school


How to prevent pregnancy and STDs


What STDs are


How to handle pressure to have sex


How alcohol/drugs might affect decisions to have sex


What AIDS is


What kinds of birth control are available




How girls get pregnant


Drinking and driving


Source: Kaiser Family Foundation/Children Now Talking With Kids About Tough Issues, A National Survey of Parents and Kids conducted September 15-October 3, 1998


10 Ways to be a Better Dad: Ten Things Every Father Needs to Know ... And Do!

Spend Time With Your Children

How a father spends his time tells his children what's important to him. If you always seem too busy for your children, they will feel neglected no matter what you say. Treasuring children often means sacrificing other things, but it is essential to spend time with your children. Kids grow up so quickly. Missed opportunities are lost forever.

Earn The Right To Be Heard

All too often the only time a father speaks to his children is when they have done something wrong. That's why so many children cringe when their mother says, "Your father wants to talk with you." Begin talking with your kids when they are very young so that difficult subjects will be easier to handle as they get older. Take time and listen to their ideas and problems.

Discipline With Love

All children need guidance and discipline, not as punishment, but to set reasonable limits. Remind your children of the consequences of their actions and provide meaningful rewards for desirable behavior. Fathers who discipline in a calm and fair manner show love for their children.

Be a Role Model

Fathers are role models to their kids, whether they realize it or not. A girl who spends time with a loving father grows up knowing she deserves to be treated with respect by boys, and what to look for in a husband. Fathers can teach sons what is important in life by demonstrating honesty, humility and responsibility.

Be a Teacher

Too many fathers think teaching is something others do. But a father who teaches his children about right and wrong, and encourages them to do their best, will see his children make good choices. Involved fathers use everyday examples to help their children learn the basic lessons of life.

Eat Together as a Family

Sharing a meal together (breakfast, lunch or dinner) can be an important part of healthy family life. In addition to providing some structure in a busy day, it gives kids the chance to talk about what they are doing and want to do. It is also a good time for fathers to listen and give advice. Most importantly, it is a time for families to be together each day.

Read to Your Children

In a world where television often dominates the lives of children, it is important that fathers make the effort to read to their children. Children learn best by doing and reading, as well as seeing and hearing. Begin reading to your children when they are very young. When they are older, encourage them to read on their own. Instilling your children with a love for reading is one of the best ways to ensure they will have a lifetime of personal and career growth.

Show Affection

Children need the security that comes from knowing they are wanted, accepted and loved by their family. Parents, especially fathers, need to feel both comfortable and willing to hug their children. Showing affection every day is the best way to let your children know that you love them.

Respect Your Children's Mother

One of the best things a father can do for his children is to respect their mother. If you are married, keep your marriage strong and vital. If you're not married, it is still important to respect and support the mother of your children. A father and mother who respect each other, and let their children know it, provide a secure environment for them. When children see their parents respecting each other, they are more likely to feel that they are also accepted and respected.

Realize That A Father's Job Is Never Done

Even after children are grown and ready to leave home, they will still look to their fathers for wisdom and advice. Whether it's continued schooling, a new job or a wedding, fathers continue to play an essential part in the lives of their children as they grow and, perhaps, marry and build their own families.


What It Takes to be a Dad

"Anyone can be a father, but it takes a man to be dad."

You get the idea...


The Positive Effects of Father Involvement: Playing an active role in your childrens' lives is more important than you ever could have imagined . . .

"A study using a national probability sample of 1, 250 fathers showed that children whose fathers share meals, spend leisure time with them, or help them with reading or homework do significantly better academically than those children who do not." Source: Cooksey, Elizabeth C. and Michelle M. Fondell. "Spending Time with His Kids: Effects of Family Structure on Fathers' and Children's Lives." Journal of Marriage and the Family 58 (August 1996): 693-707.

"A study using a nationally representative sample of 1, 600 10-13 year olds found that children who shared important ideas with their fathers and who perceived the amount of time they spent with their fathers as excellent had fewer behavior problems. . .than their peers who did not share important ideas or view the amount of time they spent with their fathers as excellent." Source: Williams, Malcolm V. "Reconceptualizing Father Involvement." Masters Thesis Georgetown University, 1997.

". . .for girls, studies link a sense of competence in daughters-especially in mathematics and a sense of femininity-to a close, warm relationship between father and daughter." Source: Ranin, N. and G. Russell. "Increased Father Participation and Child Development Outcomes." Fatherhood and Family Policy. Eds. M.E. Lamb and A. Sagi. Hillside Lawrence Eribaum, 1983: 191-218.

"A study of parent-infant attachment found that fathers who were affectionate, spent time with their children, and overall had a positive attitude were more likely to have securely attached infants." Source: Cox, M.J. et al. "Prediction of Infant-Father and Infant-Mother Attachment." Developmental Psychology 28 (1992): 474-483.

"In a study of 75 toddlers it was found that. . .children whose fathers spent a lot of time with them and who were sensitive to their needs were found to be better adapted than their peers whose fathers were not as involved and were less sensitive." Source: Esterbrooks, M. Ann and Wendy A. Goldberg. "Toddler Development in the Family: Impact of Father Involvement and Parenting Characteristics." Child Development 55 (1984): 740-752.

The Absence of Quality Time:

"Preschool children watch an average of twenty-eight hours of television per week; teenagers watch an average of 21 hours of television per week. By contrast, teenagers spend only 35 minutes per week talking with their fathers." Source: Bennett, William J. The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators: Facts and Figures on the State of American Society. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994. 102-103.

"Almost 20 percent of sixth through twelve graders have not had a good conversation lasting for at least 10 minutes with at least one of their parents in more than a month." Source: Peter L. Benson, The Troubled Journey: A Portrait of 6th-12th Grade Youth (Minneapolis: Search Institute, 1993): 84.

"In a study using 1,250 fathers of school aged children, it was found that fathers eat only half of their breakfasts and dinners together with their children." Source: Cooksey, Elizabeth C. and Michelle M. Fondell. "Spending Time with His Kids: Effects of Family Structure on Fathers' and Children's Lives." Journal of Marriage and the Family 58 (August 1996): 693-707.


How to Talk to Your Kids About Anything

10 Tips for talking with kids about tough issues


Raising a child is probably the most gratifying job any of us will ever have -- and one of the toughest. In large part, that's because times have changed. We live in an increasingly complex world that challenges us everyday with a wide range of disturbing issues that are difficult for children to understand and for adults to explain.

We believe this booklet can help. It offers practical, concrete tips and techniques for talking easily and openly with young children ages 8 to 12 about some very tough issues: sex, HIV/AIDS, violence, drugs and alcohol.

Some parents and caregivers may question the appropriateness of talking about such sensitive topics with young children. Maybe you're one of them. But consider this: our kids are already hearing about these issues from TV, movies, magazines and school friends. If we don't talk with them early and often -- and answer their questions -- they'll get their facts from someone else. And we'll have missed an important opportunity to offer our children information that's not only accurate, but also in sync with our own personal values and moral principles.

Make sense? We think so. So let's get started.

1. Start Early

Kids are hearing about and forced to cope with tough issues at increasingly early ages, often before they are ready to understand all aspects of these complicated ideas. Additionally, medical research and public health data tells us that when young children want information, advice and guidance, they turn to their parents first. Once they reach the teenage years, they tend to depend more on friends, the media and other outsiders for their information. As a parent, you have a wonderful opportunity to talk with your child about these issues first, before anyone else can confuse your child with incorrect information or explanations that lack the sense of values you want to instill. We need to take advantage of this "window of opportunity" with young children and talk with them earlier and more often, particularly about tough issues like sex, HIV/AIDS, violence, alcohol and drugs.

2. Initiate Conversations With Your Child

While we want our children to feel comfortable enough to come to us with any questions and concerns -- and thus give us the opportunity to begin conversations -- this doesn't always occur. That's why it's perfectly okay -- at times even necessary -- to begin the discussions ourselves. TV and other media are great tools for this. Say, for instance, that you and your 12-year-old are watching TV together and the program's plot includes a teenage pregnancy. After the show is over, ask your child what she thought of the program. Did she agree with how the teenagers behaved? Just one or two questions could help start a valuable discussion that comes from everyday circumstances and events.

Also, when speaking with your child, be sure to use words she can understand. Trying to explain AIDS to a 6-year-old with words like "transmission" and "transfusion" may not be as helpful as using simpler language. The best technique: use simple, short words and straightforward explanations.

If you have more than one child -- and your kids are widely spaced -- try to speak with them separately, even about the same subject. The reason? Children of varied ages are usually at different developmental levels, which means that they need different information, have different sensitivities and require a different vocabulary. What's more, older children will often dominate the discussion, which may prevent the younger ones from speaking up.

3. ...Even about Sex and Relationships

If you feel uncomfortable talking about such sensitive subjects -- particularly sex and relationships -- with your young child, you're not alone. Many parents feel awkward and uneasy, especially if they are anxious about the subject. But, for your kid's sake, try to overcome your nervousness and bring up the issue with your child. After all, our children are hearing about it both through the media and on the playground, and that information may not include the values that we want our kids to have.

4. Create an Open Environment

Young children want their parents to discuss difficult subjects with them. However, our kids will look to us for answers only if they feel we will be open to their questions. It's up to us to create the kind of atmosphere in which our children can ask any questions -- on any subject -- freely and without fear of consequence.

How do you create such an atmosphere? By being encouraging, supportive and positive. For example, if your child asks, "How many people have AIDS?" try not to answer with, "I don't know. Please just finish your lunch." No matter how busy you are respond with something like, "That's an interesting question, but I'm not sure. Let's go look it up." (FYI: Don't worry that if your children learn that you don't know everything, they won't look up to you. That's simply not true. Kids accept, "I don't know," and "let's go find out," and they are better responses than any inaccurate or misleading answers you may be tempted to offer.)

One more point: You don't need to answer all of your children's questions immediately. If your 10-year-old asks, "Mom, what's a condom?" while you're negotiating a tricky turn in rush-hour traffic, it's perfectly okay for you to say something like, "That's an important question. But with all this traffic, I can't explain right now. Let's talk later, after dinner." And make sure you do.

5. Communicate your values

As a parent, you have a wonderful opportunity to be the first person to talk with your child about tough issues like drugs and violence before anyone else can confuse him with "just-the-facts" explanations that lack the sense of values and moral principles you want to instill. Likewise, when talking with your child about sex, remember to talk about more than "the birds and the bees," and communicate your values. Remember: research shows that children want and need moral guidance from their moms and dads, so don't hesitate to make your beliefs clear.

6. Listen to Your Child

How many times do we listen to our children while folding clothes, preparing for the next day's meeting, or pushing a shopping cart through the supermarket? While that's understandable, it's important to find time to give kids our undivided attention. Listening carefully to our children builds self-esteem by letting our youngsters know that they're important to us and can lead to valuable discussions about a wide variety of sensitive issues.

Listening carefully also helps us better understand what our children really want to know as well as what they already understand. And it keeps us from talking above our youngsters' heads and confusing them even further. For example, suppose your child asks you what crack is. Before you answer, ask him what he thinks it is. If he says, "I think it's something you eat that makes you act funny," then you have a sense of his level of understanding and can adjust your explanations to fit.

Listening to our children and taking their feelings into account also helps us understand when they've had enough. Suppose you're answering your 9-year-old's questions about AIDS. If, after a while, he says, "I want to go out and play," stop the talk and reintroduce the subject at another time.

7. Be Honest

Whatever your children's age, they deserve honest answers and explanations. It's what strengthens our children's ability to trust. Also, when we don't provide a straightforward answer, kids make up their own fantasy explanations, which can be more frightening than any real, honest response we can offer.

While we may not want or need to share all the details of a particular situation or issue with our child, try not to leave any big gaps either. When we do, children tend to fill in the blanks themselves, which can generate a good deal of confusion and concern.

8. Be Patient

Often it can feel like forever before a youngster gets his story out. As adults, we're tempted to finish the child's sentence for him, filling in words and phrases in an effort to hear the point sooner. Try to resist this impulse. By listening patiently, we allow our children to think at their own pace and we are letting them know that they are worthy of our time.

9. Use Everyday Opportunities to Talk

It's important to try to talk with your kids about tough issues often, but there isn't always time in the day to sit down for a long talk. Also, kids tend to resist formal discussions about today's toughest issues, often categorizing them as just another lecture from mom and dad. But if we use "talk opportunities," moments that arise in everyday life, as occasions for discussion, our children will be a lot less likely to tune us out. For instance, a newspaper item about a child expelled from school for carrying a gun to class can help you start a discussion on guns and violence. A public service TV commercial can give you an opportunity to talk about AIDS.

10. Talk About it Again. And Again.

Since most young children can only take in small bits of information at any one time, they won't learn all they need to know about a particular topic from a single discussion. That's why it's important to let a little time pass, then ask the child to tell you what she remembers about your conversation. This will help you correct any misconceptions and fill in missing facts.

Finally, in an effort to absorb all they want to know, children often ask questions again and again over time -- which can test any parent's nerves. But such repetition is perfectly normal, so be prepared and tolerant. Don't be afraid to initiate discussions repeatedly, either. Patience and persistence will serve you and your child well.


Talking With Kids About Alcohol and Drugs

The issue of drugs can be very confusing to young children. If drugs are so dangerous, then why is the family medicine cabinet full of them? And why do TV, movies, music and advertising often make drug and alcohol use look so cool?

We need to help our kids to distinguish fact from fiction. And it's not too soon to begin. National studies show that the average age when a child first tries alcohol is 11; for marijuana, it's 12. And many kids start becoming curious about these substances even sooner. So let's get started!

1. Listen carefully

Student surveys reveal that when parents listen to their children's feelings and concerns, their kids feel comfortable talking with them and are more likely to stay drug-free.

2. Role play how to say "no"

Role play ways in which your child can refuse to go along with his friends without becoming a social outcast. Try something like this, "Let's play a game. Suppose you and your friends are at Andy's house after school and they find some beer in the refrigerator and ask you to join them in drinking it. The rule in our family is that children are not allowed to drink alcohol. So what could you say?"

If your child comes up with a good response, praise him. If he doesn't, offer a few suggestions like, "No, thanks. Let's play with Sony PlayStation instead," or "No thanks. I don't drink beer. I need to keep in shape for basketball."

3. Encourage choice

Allow your child plenty of opportunity to become a confident decision-maker. An 8-year-old is capable of deciding if she wants to invite lots of friends to her birthday party or just a close pal or two. A 12-year-old can choose whether she wants to go out for chorus or join the school band. As your child becomes more skilled at making all kinds of good choices, both you and she will feel more secure in her ability to make the right decision concerning alcohol and drugs if and when the time arrives.

4. Provide age-appropriate information

Make sure the information that you offer fits the child's age and stage. When your 6 or 7-year-old is brushing his teeth, you can say, "There are lots of things we do to keep our bodies healthy, like brushing our teeth. But there are also things we shouldn't do because they hurt our bodies, like smoking or taking medicines when we are not sick."

If you are watching TV with your 8 year-old and marijuana is mentioned on a program, you can say, "Do you know what marijuana is? It's a bad drug that can hurt your body." If your child has more questions, answer them. If not, let it go. Short, simple comments said and repeated often enough will get the message across.

You can offer your older child the same message, but add more drug-specific information. For example, you might explain to your 12-year-old what marijuana and crack look like, their street names and how they can affect his body.

5. Establish a clear family position on drugs

It's okay to say, "We don't allow any drug use and children in this family are not allowed to drink alcohol. The only time that you can take any drugs is when the doctor or Mom or Dad gives you medicine when you're sick. We made this rule because we love you very much and we know that drugs can hurt your body and make you very sick; some may even kill you. Do you have any questions?"

6. Be a good example

Children will do what you do much more readily than what you say. So try not to reach for a beer the minute you come home after a tough day; it sends the message that drinking is the best way to unwind. Offer dinner guests nonalcoholic drinks in addition to wine and spirits. And take care not to pop pills, even over-the-counter remedies, indiscriminately. Your behavior needs to reflect your beliefs.

7. Discuss what makes a good friend

Since peer pressure is so important when it comes to kids' involvement with drugs and alcohol, it makes good sense to talk with your children about what makes a good friend. To an 8-year-old you might say, "A good friend is someone who enjoys the same games and activities that you do and who is fun to be around." 11 to 12-year-olds can understand that a friend is someone who shares their values and experiences, respects their decisions and listens to their feelings. Once you've gotten these concepts across, your children will understand that "friends" who pressure them to drink or smoke pot aren't friends at all. Additionally, encouraging skills like sharing and cooperation -- and strong involvement in fun, healthful activities (such as team sports or scouting) -- will help your children make and maintain good friendships as they mature and increase the chance that they'll remain drug-free.

8. Build self-esteem

Kids who feel good about themselves are much less likely than other kids to turn to illegal substances to get high.

As parents, we can do many things to enhance our children's self-image. Here are some pointers:

9. Offer lots of praise for any job well done.

If you need to criticize your child, talk about the action, not the person. If your son gets a math problem wrong, it's better to say, "I think you added wrong. Let's try again."

Assign do-able chores. A 6-year-old can bring her plate over to the sink after dinner; a 12-year-old can feed and walk the dog after school. Performing such duties and being praised for them helps your child feel good about himself.

Spend one-on-one time with your youngster. Setting aside at least 15 uninterrupted minutes per child per day to talk, play a game, or take a walk together, lets her know you care.

Say, "I love you." Nothing will make your child feel better.

10. Repeat the message

Information and lessons about drugs are important enough to repeat frequently. So be sure to answer your children's questions as often as they ask them to initiate conversation whenever the opportunity arises.

11. If you suspect a problem, seek help

While kids under age 12 rarely develop a substance problem, it can -- and does -- happen. If your child becomes withdrawn, loses weight, starts doing poorly in school, turns extremely moody, has glassy eyes -- or if the drugs in your medicine cabinet seem to be disappearing too quickly -- talk with your child and reach out to any one of the organizations listed here. You'll be helping your youngster to a healthier, happier future.

Questions & Answers

Why do people take bad or illegal drugs?

There are lots of reasons. Maybe they don't know how dangerous they are. Or maybe they feel bad about themselves or don't know how to handle their problems. Or maybe they don't have parents they can talk to. Why do you think they do it?

Why are some drugs good and some drugs bad for you?

When you get sick, the drugs the doctor gives you will help you get better. But if you take these drugs when you're healthy, they can make you sick. Also, there are some drugs, like marijuana or crack, that are never good for you. To be safe, never ever take any drugs unless Mom, Dad or the doctor says it's okay.


Talking With Kids About HIV and AIDS

As upsetting and confusing as it can be to bring up the subject of AIDS with young children, it's essential to do so. By the time they reach third grade, research shows that as many as 93 percent of children have already heard about the illness. Yet, while kids are hearing about HIV/AIDS early on, what they are learning is often inaccurate and frightening. You can set the record straight -- if you know the facts yourself. HIV is transmitted from person to person through contact with blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or breast milk. HIV can be prevented by using latex condoms during sex, not sharing "drug needles," and avoiding contact with another person's bodily fluids. So stay informed. Sharing this information with your youngster can keep her safe and calm her fears. Finally, talking with your child about AIDS lays the groundwork for any future conversations about AIDS-preventative behavior. Here are some tips on how to get started:

1. Initiate discussion

Use a "talk opportunity" to introduce the subject of AIDS to your child. For example, try tying a discussion into something your child sees or hears, such as a commercial about AIDS. After you and your child watch the ad, say something like, "Have you heard about AIDS before? Well, what do you think AIDS is?" This way, you can figure out what she already understands and work from there.

2. Present the facts

Offer honest, accurate information that's appropriate to a child's age and development. To an 8-year-old you might say, "AIDS is a disease that makes people very sick. It's caused by a virus, called HIV, which is a tiny germ." An older child can absorb more detailed information: "Your body is made up of billions of cells. Some of these cells, called T-cells, help your body stay healthy by fighting off disease. But if you get a virus called HIV, that virus kills the T- cells. Over time, the body can't fight disease any more and that person has AIDS." Preteens should also understand how condoms could help protect people from getting AIDS and that the disease can be transmitted between persons who share drug needles. (If you have already explained sexual intercourse to your children, you might add, "During sexual intercourse, the semen from the man's body goes into the woman's body. That semen can carry HIV." If you have not yet talked about sex, don't bring it up during initial discussions about AIDS. It's not a good idea for your child's first information about sex to be associated with such a serious disease.)

3. Set them straight

Children's misconceptions about AIDS can be pretty scary, so it's important to correct them as soon as possible. Suppose your 8-year-old comes home from school one day, tearful because she fell down on the playground, scraped her knee and started bleeding -- and the other kids told her she would get AIDS. As a parent, you might explain, "No, you don't have AIDS. You're fine. You can't get AIDS from scraping your knee. The way you can get AIDS is when the fluids from your body mix with those of someone who has AIDS. Do you understand?" After such a discussion, it's also wise to check back with your child and see what she remembers. Understanding AIDS, particularly for young children, takes more than a single conversation.

4. Foster self-esteem

Praising our children frequently, setting realistic goals and keeping up with their interests are an effective way to build self-esteem. And that's important, because when kids feel good about themselves, they are much more likely to withstand peer pressure to have sex before they are ready, or to not do drugs. In short, they are less likely to engage in behavior that could put them at risk for AIDS.

5. Put Your Child's Safety First

Some adults mistakenly believe that AIDS is only a disease of homosexuals. Whatever your beliefs, try not to let your opinions or feelings prevent you from giving your child the facts about AIDS and its transmission -- it's information that's essential to their health and safety.

6. Be prepared to discuss death

When talking with your kids about AIDS, questions about death may come up. So get ready to answer them by reading books (see Readings for Children and Parents) available at libraries or bookstores. In the meantime, here are three helpful tips:

Explain death in simple terms. Explain that when someone dies, they don't breathe, or eat, or feel hungry or cold, and you won't see them again. Although very young children won't be able to understand such finality, that's okay. Just be patient and repeat the message whenever appropriate.

Never explain death in terms of sleep. It may make your child worry that if he falls asleep, he'll never wake up.

Offer reassurance. If appropriate, tell your child that you are not going to die from AIDS and that he won't either. Stress that while AIDS is serious, it is preventable.

Questions & Answers

What is AIDS?

AIDS is a very serious disease that is caused by a tiny germ called a virus. When you are healthy, your body can fight off diseases, like Superman fighting the bad guys. Even if you do get sick, your body can fight the germs and make you well again. But when you have AIDS, your body cannot protect you. That's why people with AIDS get very sick.

How do you get AIDS?

You can get AIDS when the fluids from your body mix with those of someone who has AIDS. You can't catch it like the flu and you can't get it just by touching or being near someone with AIDS, so you and I don't have to worry about getting it. (NOTE: If you have already talked with your child about sex, you should also add, "You can also get AIDS by having unprotected sexual intercourse with someone who has the HIV virus.")

Can kids get AIDS?

Very few children get AIDS. But if they were born to a mother who had AIDS, they could get AIDS when they were born. A long time ago, some kids who had hemophilia -- a disease that means their blood doesn't have enough good cells, so they need to get blood from other people -- got AIDS when they got blood. But that doesn't happen anymore. AIDS is mostly a disease of grownups. (NOTE: If your child already knows about the link between sex and AIDS, and IV drug use and AIDS, you might also add, "Sometimes teenagers who have unprotected sex (including oral sex) or who share drug needles get AIDS." But you should still emphasize that "AIDS is mostly a disease of grown-ups.")

How can you tell from looking at someone if they have AIDS?

You can't. Anyone, regardless of what they look like, can have AIDS. People find out if they have AIDS after being tested by a doctor. Therefore, the only way to know if someone has AIDS is to ask him if he has been tested and if the test results were positive for HIV/AIDS.

Do all gay people get AIDS?

No. Homosexuals get AIDS the same way that heterosexuals do. And they can protect themselves the same way, too.


Sex and Relationships

Most parents want to do their best in talking with their kids about sex and sexuality, but we're often not sure how to begin. Here's our advice:

1. Explore your own attitudes

Studies show that kids who feel they can talk with their parents about sex -- because their moms and dads speak openly and listen carefully to them -- are less likely to engage in high-risk behavior as teens than kids who do not feel they can talk with their parents about the subject. So explore your feelings about sex. If you are very uncomfortable with the subject, read some books (see Readings for Parents) and discuss your feelings with a trusted friend, relative, physician, or clergy member. The more you examine the subject, the more confident you'll feel discussing it.

Even if you can't quite overcome your discomfort, don't worry about admitting it to your kids. It's okay to say something like, "You know, I'm uncomfortable talking about sex because my parents never talked with me about it. But I want us to be able to talk about anything -- including sex -- so please come to me if you have any questions. And if I don't know the answer, I'll find out."

2. Start early

Teaching your children about sex demands a gentle, continuous flow of information that should begin as early as possible -- for instance, when teaching your toddler where his nose and toes are, include "this is your penis" or "this is your vagina" in your talks. As your child grows, you can continue her education by adding more materials gradually until she understands the subject well.

3. Take the initiative

If your child hasn't started asking questions about sex, look for a good opportunity to bring it up. Say, for instance, the mother of an 8-year-old's best friend is pregnant. You can say, "Did you notice that David's mommy's tummy is getting bigger? That's because she's going to have a baby and she's carrying it inside her. Do you know how the baby got inside her?" then let the conversation move from there.

4. Talk about more than the "Birds and the Bees"

While our children need to know the biological facts about sex, they also need to understand that sexual relationships involve caring, concern and responsibility. By discussing the emotional aspect of a sexual relationship with your child, she will be better informed to make decisions later on and to resist peer pressure. If your child is a Preven, you need to include some message about the responsibilities and consequences of sexual activity. Conversations with 11 and 12-year-olds, for example, should include talks about unwanted pregnancy and how they can protect themselves.

One aspect that many parents overlook when discussing sex with their child is dating. As opposed to movies, where two people meet and later end up in bed together, in real life there is time to get to know each other -- time to hold hands, go bowling, see a movie, or just talk. Children need to know that this is an important part of a caring relationship.

5. Give accurate, age-appropriate information

Talk about sex in a way that fits the age and stage of your child. If your 8-year-old asks why boys and girls change so much physically as they grow, you can say something like, "The body has special chemicals called hormones that tell it whether to become a boy or a girl. A boy has a penis and testicles, and when he grows older his voice gets lower and he gets more hair on his body. A girl has a vulva and vagina, and when she gets older she grows breasts and her hips grow rounder."

6. Anticipate the next stage of development

Children can get frightened and confused by the sudden changes their bodies begin to go through as they reach puberty. To help stop any anxiety, talk with your kids not only about their current stage of development but about the next stage, too. An 8-year-old girl is old enough to learn about menstruation, just as a boy that age is ready to learn how his body will change.

7. Communicate your values

It's our responsibility to let our children know our values about sex. Although they may not adopt these values as they mature, at least they'll be aware of them as they struggle to figure out how they feel and want to behave.

8. Talk with your child of the opposite sex

Some parents feel uncomfortable talking with their child about topics like sex if the youngster is of the opposite gender. While that's certainly understandable, don't let it become an excuse to close off conversation. If you're a single mother of a son, for example, you can turn to books to help guide you or ask your doctor for some advice on how to bring up the topic with your child. You could also recruit an uncle or other close male friend or relative to discuss the subject with your child, provided there is already good, open communication between them. If there are two parents in the household, it might feel less awkward to have the dad talk with the boy and the mom with the girl. That's not a hard and fast rule, though. If you're comfortable talking with either sons or daughters, go right ahead. Just make sure that gender differences don't make subjects like sex taboo.

9. Relax

Don't worry about knowing all the answers to your children's questions; what you know is a lot less important than how you respond. If you can convey the message that no subject, including sex, is forbidden in your home, you'll be doing just fine.

Questions & Answers

What's safe sex?

If two people have sexual intercourse or oral sex and one of them has HIV or another sexually transmitted disease, he could give it to his partner(s). Doctors believe that if the man wears a latex condom whenever he has intercourse, it helps to protect him and his partner from giving each other HIV. That's why people call sexual intercourse or oral sex with a latex condom "safe sex."

Is it true that you can't get pregnant the first time that you have sex?

No. You can get pregnant anytime you have sexual intercourse. Wearing a latex condom, taking birth control pills, or using other contraceptives are very effective at preventing pregnancy. However, the only absolute way to not get pregnant is to not have sex at all. You might also use this question as an opportunity to point out that not having sexual intercourse is a good idea for teens. Help them understand there are other ways to show affection.


Talking With Kids About Violence

As part of our national campaign, President Clinton unveiled new TV and radio ads in August 1999 to help parents talk with their children about violence. Read the complete press release, obtain the free booklet, and view or listen to the TV and radio PSAs.

aising a child is one of the most gratifying jobs you'll ever have and one of the toughest. Try as you might to be the best parent you can, our complex world challenges you every day with disturbing issues that are difficult for children to understand and for parents to explain. But explain we must, or we miss a critical opportunity. Research shows that children, especially those between the ages of 8 and 12, want their parents to talk with them about today's toughest issues, including violence. Even when they reach adolescence, they want to have a caring adult in their lives to talk about these issues. In fact, those who have early conversations are more likely to continue turning to their parents as they become teens.

Violence in today's world in the media, in our neighborhoods and even in our schools can make our children feel frightened, unsafe and insecure. Kids are hearing about and often must cope with tough issues such as violence at increasingly earlier ages, often before they are ready to understand all the aspects of complicated situations. Yet, there is hope. Parents and other caring adults have a unique opportunity to talk with their children about these issues first, before everyone else does.

Even in such complex times, parents have the ability to raise healthy, confident, secure children who know how to resolve conflicts peacefully and make smart decisions to protect themselves. Parents should talk with their children to help them learn correct information and to impart the values they want to instill. Parents should also be a consistent, reliable, knowledgeable source of information. Here are some tips on getting started.

Develop open communication

It is important that you talk with your kids openly and honestly. Use encouragement, support and positive reinforcement so your kids know that they can ask any question-on any topic-freely and without fear of consequence. Provide straightforward answers; otherwise, your child may make up her own explanations that can he more frightening than any honest response you could offer. If you don't know the answer, admit it-then find the correct information and explore it together. Use everyday opportunities to talk as occasions for discussion. Some of the best talks you'll have with your child will take place when you least expect them. And remember that it often takes more than a single talk for children to grasp all they need to know. So talk, talk and talk again.

Encourage them to talk it out.

Children feel better when they talk about their feelings. It lifts the burden of having to face their fears alone and offers an emotional release. If you sense that a violent event (whether real or fictional) has upset your youngster, you might say something like, "That TV program we saw seemed pretty scary to me. What did you think about it?" and see where the conversation leads. If your child appears constantly depressed, angry or feels persecuted, it is especially important to reassure him that you love him and encourage him to talk about his concerns. And if he has been violent or a victim of violence, it is critical to give him a safe place to express his feelings.

Monitor the Media

Over the years, many experts have concluded that viewing a lot of violence in the media can be risky for children. Studies have shown that watching too much violence-whether on TV, in the movies, or in video games-can increase the chance that children will be desensitized to violence, or even act more aggressively themselves. Pay special attention to the kinds of media your children play with or watch. Parental advisories for music, movies, TV, video and computer games can help you choose age-appropriate media for your children. Try watching TV or playing video games with your children and talk with them about the things you see together. Encourage your children to think about what they are watching, listening to or playing-how would they handle situations differently? Let them know why violent movies or games disturb you. For example, you might tell your nine-year-old, "Violence just isn't funny to me. In real life people who get shot have families and children, and it's sad when something bad happens to them." Watching the news and other media with your child enables you to discuss current events like war and other conflicts, and can provide an opportunity to reinforce the consequences of violence. (See Mediawatch and TV Violence)

Parents and other caring adults can help tone down the effects of these violent messages.

Here's how:

•Actively supervise your child's exposure to all forms of media violence: television, videos, etc.

•Limit TV viewing to those programs you feel are appropriate.

•Be selective about which movies your child sees and which video and computer game they play.

•Establish rules about the Internet by going on-line together to choose sites that are appropriate and fun for your child.

•Consider using monitoring tools for TV and the Internet, like the v-chip, a new technology that allows parents to block TV programs they consider inappropriate.

•Take advantage of the ratings system that provides parents with information about the content of a TV program or movie.

Acknowledge your children's fears and reassure them of their safety

Children who experience or witness violence, as well as those who have only seen violent acts on TV or in the movies, often become anxious and fearful. That's why it's important to reassure a child that their personal world can remain safe. Try saying something like this to your 7 or 8-year-old: "I know that you are afraid. I will do my very best to make sure you are safe." The recent school tragedies in Colorado and in Georgia have shown that violence can not only frighten children but can make them feel guilty for not preventing it. By providing consistent support and an accepting environment, you can help reduce children's anxieties and fears.

Take a stand

Parents need to be clear and consistent about the values they want to instill. Don't cave in to your children's assertion that "everybody else does it (or has seen it)" when it comes to allowing them to play what you view as an excessively violent game or to watch an inappropriate movie. You have a right and responsibility to say, "I don't like the message that game sends. I know that you play that game at your friend's house, but I don't want it played in our house."

Control your own behavior

When it comes to learning how to behave, children often follow their parents' lead, which is why it is important to examine how you approach conflict. Do you use violence to settle arguments? When you're angry, do you yell or use physical force? If you want your child to avoid violence, model the right behavior for her.

Set limits regarding children's actions towards others

Let your child know that teasing can become bullying and roughhousing can get out of control. If you see your child strike another, impose a "time out" in order for him to calm down, then ask him to explain why he hit the child. Tell him firmly that hitting is not allowed and help him figure out a peaceful way to settle the problem.

Hold family meetings

Regularly scheduled family meetings can provide children-and us- with an acceptable place to talk about complaints and share opinions. Just be sure that everyone gets a chance to speak. Use these meetings to demonstrate effective problem-solving and negotiation skills. Keep the meetings lively, but well controlled, so children learn that conflicts can be settled creatively and without violence.

Convey strict rules about weapons

Teach your child that real guns and knives are very dangerous and that they can hurt and kill people. You might say, "I know in the cartoons you watch and the video and computer games you play, the characters are always shooting each other. They never get hurt; they just pop up again later like nothing ever happened. But in real life, someone who gets shot will be seriously hurt; sometimes they even die."

Talk about gangs and cliques

Gangs and cliques are often a result of young people looking for support and belonging. However, they can become dangerous when acceptance depends upon negative or antisocial behavior. If you believe your child might be exposed or attracted to a gang, talk about it together. Look for an opportunity-say you see an ad for a movie that makes gang life seem glamorous-and say, "You know, sometimes it seems like joining a gang might be cool. But it's not. Kids in gangs get hurt. Some even get killed because they try to solve their problems through violence. Really smart kids choose friends who are fun to be with and won't put them in any danger." Many communities have programs that help prevent gang violence.

Talk with other parents

Help give your kids a consistent anti-violence message by speaking with the parents of your kids' friends about what your children can and cannot view or play in your homes. Ask other parents if there's a gun in their home. If there is, talk with them to make sure they've taken the necessary safety measures. Having this kind of conversation may seem uncomfortable, but keep in mind that nearly 40 percent of accidental handgun shootings of children under 16 occur in the homes of friends and relatives.

Pay particular attention to boys

Most boys love action. But action need not become violence. Parents must distinguish between the two and help their boys do so as well. Allow them safe and healthy outlets for their natural energy. And recognize that talking-especially about violence-is different for boys than for girls. Boys may feel ashamed to express their real feelings about violence. Instead of sitting down for a " talk," initiate the topic while the two of you are engaged in an activity he enjoys. Provide privacy for these conversations. And be ready to listen when he's ready to talk, even if the timing isn't ideal. (Pollack, Real Boys, 1998.)

Pay particular attention to girls

Girls often participate in culturally accepted forms of abuse: slapping, hitting, kicking boys and verbal abuse. While the culture generally accepts this behavior, and it is displayed daily in soaps, sit coms, reality television, etc., only sees it as abusive if the boy does it and doesn't take action to stop it, nevertheless it is still abusive behavior and should not be acceptable.

Ask the schools to get involved

Find out about your school's violence prevention efforts. Encourage the teaching of conflict-resolution skills and "peer mediation" programs (where children counsel other children). Suggest training teachers in de-escalating and preventing violence.

Get additional support and information

We hope you have found this information helpful. If you still want more information, contact any of these organizations listed or go to the library or bookstore and check out these books for parents. There are lots of people you can talk with like doctors, teachers, members of the clergy or other parents.

What do I do if a kid at school is picking on me?

A bully usually feels badly about himself and that's why he picks on people. I know you want to stand up to him, but try hard not to get mad or let him provoke you. If you feel like you can handle it, try to stand tall and say, "I'm not going to fight with you." But remember, you don't have to handle it on your own. I'm there for you and if you need me to talk with your teacher or principal, I will.

What do I do if I see someone bring a gun to school?

If you ever see a gun anywhere, never touch it. It is important that you tell an adult-like your teacher or us, right away. That way, you'll stay safe and help make sure no one else gets hurt.


Talking With Kids About Tough Issues Booklets

Adobe Acrobat PDFs produce a postscript-sharp printer-ready version of the complete booklets. You must have a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader on your computer to view and print this file. You can obtain a free copy of Acrobat Reader from Adobe through the site or by calling toll-free 800.CHILD.44 (244.5344)..

Talk With Your Kids About Violence

Talk With Your Kids About Tough Issues (In English)

Talk With Your Kids About Tough Issues (En Español)

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Children should be led into the right paths, not by severity, but by persuasion. - Terence

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