Why it is important to discuss hard stuff with kids

Why it is important to discuss hard stuff with kids

Maria Montessori said:
An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking; it involves the spiritual development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to understand the times in which they live.” (Education and Peace)

I have been wondering a lot lately about how  children are more aware of the the social and cultural world around them than perhaps they were 100 years ago. As an, example with the rise of technology children have instant access to all manner of information (age appropriate or not). This means that children are very aware of all sorts of things that are happening around them.
Children today know about and experience all manner of difficult things. For example (but not limited to)
  • A range of family situations, some that may change during the child's life
  • Trauma
  • Discrimination (immigration status, religion, race, sexual orientation)
  • Socio-economic disadvantage
  • Natural/Manmade  Disaster
  • Bullying
  • Illness (including mental health issues)
Some teachers believe that we should only discuss difficult topics with children if the child brings it up and should concentrate on making our classrooms a sanctuary or 'safe' space separated from the world or issues the child is having.

Other teachers like myself think we should be proactive rather than reactive. That is we should discuss difficult things before and while they happen not just after they happen. For example we should talk about bullying before it happens in our class. We should talk about how to get help if a child is in a physically unsafe situation before it happens. It is my belief that in doing this the child has a larger 'kete' or bag of tools to choose from when difficult things happen.
A lot of this links to giving children skills for life, skills that a child needs in whatever career or situation they find themself for example the ability to
-Express their feelings in a healthy way
-Communicate respectfully
-Use language, symbols and text
-Be flexible
-Adapt to situations
If a teacher chooses to separate their classroom off from the 'real world' and not discuss or address what is happening they are effectively isolating the child from the world they are living in. Some say this is good as a school should be age appropriate and child centred. Others of this viewpoint may suggest that they will address issues if the child voices it. However what do we do for children who have questions and situations and do not know how to voice them?
As teachers it is so important that are children know that we have a good pulse of the world the child is living in. If relationships are key to effective teaching than we need to ensure our relationships are built on mutual trust and understanding. I also think children are pretty savvy. A child is going to have a hard time believing that you have important knowledge to share about  abstract topics like writing, math or science but have no idea about what is happening outside the front door of your classroom.

I think it is really important for teachers to know:
- the developmental stage and features of the child's age range (Planes of Development)
- the family background 
- the issues in the immediate class, school, community or wider community (including country)
- the child's personality

We also need to think when raising a topic for discussion say racism, or unfairness how we are going to address the topic so that children feel empowered. This may include:
- giving children scripts to say to others or to themselves for example 'I am not useless, I am strong'
- showing what to do in a situation - role plays are good
- providing positive role models e.g. people who have been through similar things
- reading books to children and discussing the characters or plot and what that teaches us. Aesops fables and traditional legends and myths are good for this too!

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