When Can I Teach My Kids Difficult Conversations?

Do not raise a teacup!

That was our goal in raising our daughter, Casey.

We aimed to show her love without becoming helicopter parents. We wanted her to a person who learned responsibility and took care of herself rather than being a delicate person who always assumed someone would rescue her.

I was working with many universities at the time who told me just how bad it was. They said, “We have so many problems with the students showing up today. They’re too fragile, they can’t handle feedback, they don’t do their own work, and they’re not resilient. Frankly, we have a bunch of teacups!”

Hence our goal: No teacups!

We learned that teaching our child not to be a teacup not only meant teaching responsibility — it meant equipping her with the skills needed to navigate tough situations.

Young or old, these skills make all the difference in our lives, our families and friends, our workplaces, and the world around us.

The Foundation

Our mission was tested early on. One morning, Casey woke up for school and did not want to change out of her pajamas into her uniform.

We tussled a bit until finally I said, “You get in the backseat. I’ll put your uniform back there and you make the decision before you get to school about what you’re going to wear. But I will not bring your uniform to you later if you get in trouble.”

Luckily for her, she changed and we never had that conversation again. She understood there was no rescuing once she made a decision. She had to take responsibility for her choices.

Not long into our parenting years, an amazing book came out, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. My husband John and I made a major decision to incorporate this book into our child rearing.

The ultimate test of how well we’d taught her came when she was a freshman in college.

The Test

One afternoon, Casey called, “Mom, you’re not going to believe what happened today! Erin, my best friend, called me and said that another girl we know started a rumour about me. She said I was drunk on campus last night. You know that I don’t drink!”

I knew Casey was telling the truth. Lest you think I’m a stupid parent that ignores the obvious, I understood her situation. Casey had an eating disorder. For her, alcohol meant calories and punishment in the gym.

So I asked, “Casey, what do you think you need to do about this?”

She replied, “Ugh. I have to talk to her, don’t I?”

Of course. She knew she knew she had to take responsibility for resolving the situation. So she and I practised some scripts of how she could use her Crucial Conversations skills with the girl who started the rumour.

Later that day, she had a conversation with the girl that went like this:

“Can we talk about something that’s important to both of us?” Then she relayed the facts about the phone call. “Did it happen that way? Or did I miss something?”

“I might have said that.”

“How are you going to fix this?”

“I’ll call all the girls I talked with and tell them I was mistaken.”

“And how will I know that you’ve made these phone calls?”

“I’ll ask them to call you.”

That night Casey received many calls from girls saying, “Casey, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have believed it. I should have known better.”

Casey may have only been a girl transitioning into adulthood, but she had the skills she needed to navigate relational obstacles.

It’s never too early to teach our children crucial conversation skills. Not only will it benefit your family, it will positively impact the lives of your children both now and in their future.

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