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Mom Talk: Why Tough Conversations Should Start Early

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Photo Courtesy of Tara Miko Ballentine

While mature, complicated topics might be hard to discuss with kids, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. That’s the ethos of Tara Miko Ballentine, an Austin-based serial entrepreneur. From social and racial injustices to a global pandemic, Tara recently felt called to start having big conversations with her 6-year-old daughter, Poppy, at a level that she could understand. After searching (with no luck) for age-appropriate tools to navigate challenging conversations, Tara created Bright Littles Convo Cards with the goal of finding ways to have engaging teaching moments with her daughter about important life topics like health, safety, nature, diversity, and self. Her hope is that these cards will be a helpful tool for families everywhere to have real conversations through the lens of their children. Read a snippet of her personal story below! 

As we pulled up to a stoplight, a homeless man was standing on the side of the road holding a sign. My then 4-year-old daughter asked, “Mommy, what does the sign say?” Thoughts raced through my head as I scrambled to figure out what to say as I measured truth on an imaginary scale of what was age-appropriate. What can she handle?

I replied sheepishly, “have a nice day,” and turned her way with a huge, beaming smile that was less of a smile and more of “did she buy it?” My lie was met with my daughter’s fierce and wise reply, “Mommy, what does it really say?”

I replied “you are right, honey. The sign says, ‘anything helps,’” to which she replied, “why don’t we help, mommy?” Tears welled up in my eyes as I repeated the question internally as if to ask myself: “why don’t we help, mommy?”

My entire way of parenting changed in a split second. I realized my job is not to protect her from the world, but rather prepare her for the world and set her up with the tools to make a positive impact in it.

The light at the intersection turned green, not only for us to drive forward, but as a “green light” to start real conversations. Instead of talking about what snacks she ate at school or if she played on the swing, we discussed ways we could do anything to help others in our community and at home as we drove home that day.

Our kids are sponges. They are soaking up information all the time, and they are looking to us to help navigate all of the information. They are picking up tidbits from family, siblings, friends, TV, and even us—because little ears are everywhere.

Rather than letting them piece together information they hear in their day-to-day lives all by themselves, I believe we should have open and continuous conversations about important topics they are experiencing. This is very different from the way I grew up, where children were to be seen not heard. I believe we should uplift our children and teach them how to use their voices to stand up for themselves, others, and for what they believe in.

Why is it important to start the conversations early? It builds self-esteem; helps them handle conflict; builds trust; creates a better relationship between parent and child; and helps with problem solving.

So where do we begin, parents? First off, be honest. When my daughter asks me a hard question, I always reply truthfully, even if it’s to say “I don’t have the answer, let me get back to you.”

Secondly, identify opportunities to take action: I find current events and break them down into teachable moments in age-appropriate bites. Some teachable moments we have explored in our house include voting, giving back, and learning about a new culture.

You should also share your experiences as a parent and as a family. Both my husband and I were raised by immigrant parents, and this shaped our childhood and who we are, thus, who she is.

Finally, rethink your questions. This is a huge one! Some questions might include, Did you help someone today? How do you feel today? Did you make a mistake?

The reality is, our children have the power to change the world for the better. Let’s set them up with the knowledge and tools to start today because REAL change starts with REAL conversation.

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