How to Have a Courageous Conversation with a Child

by Rev. Tanya Eustace

Children and adults learn best when they are introduced to new and/or diverse perspectives in a nurturing and safe environment. When ministry leaders, parents, and mentors take the time to model courageous conversations and invite children to practice participating in these conversations, they are helping children develop the tools they need to show up in the world with wonder, creativity, respect, care, and imagination.

Children are more aware of world situations, stories on the news, as well as controversies or stressful events in their community than many adults want to acknowledge. Having courageous conversations with children equips them to wrestle with their own feelings and opinions as they discern how God is calling them to respond to all they experience.

Courageous conversations can happen at church, in the home, and in other settings, as long as a loving parent, guardian, ministry leader, or mentor guides the conversations. To have courageous conversations with children, parents, mentors, and/or ministry leaders must create and enter into a safe space that invites active wondering, faithful listening, authentic and honest dialogue, and imaginative reflection. These five tools will help adults and children create and step into a holy and sacred space as families and ministry leaders model and practice courageous conversations together.

  1. Safe space:
    1. Create a safe space where children are respected, invited to wonder, and supported as they share their thoughts.  Designate a specific location for your safe space. This might be your church, a special room in your home, outside, or another favorite location. Make sure that there are not any distractions, including people walking in and out, loud noises, TV or screens of any kind, or any other moving distraction. 
    2. Invite your group/family to enter into this safe space, saying, “This is a special place. When we come to this place, we remember that God is with us and that the words we use are holy and sacred. We talk a little quieter, honoring the people we are talking to. We listen to one another, respecting all voices and opinions; and we take all the time we need to wonder, listen, and reflect together.”
    3. Begin your time together by lighting a candle or ringing a soft chime to signal the beginning of the holy conversation. Open with a greeting:

            “The Lord be with you,”
            “and also with you.”
       
    4. Set a clear beginning and ending time. Ten to fifteen minutes is an appropriate amount of time (depending on the age of the children and the number of people present), although the conversation might end sooner than this suggested time. If it is time to end and the conversation is not complete, suggest that the group return at another time to continue the conversation.
    5. Bless one another: Close each courageous conversation with a prayer and a blessing. Take time to bless each person:
      Make the shape of a cross on each person’s forehead or hand while saying these words:
    1. Make a vertical line.) God loves you.
    2. (Make a horizontal line.) God’s with you.
    3. (Look the person in his/her eyes.) Thank you for participating in this courageous conversation.

       
  2. Active Wondering:
    1. Active wondering requires an open mind and a curious heart.  In this space, adults must not seek to provide the “right” answer but instead work to nurture the children’s abilities to share their feelings, solve problems,  think critically, and imagine.
    2. Invite your child/your family to share openly and honor those who choose to remain silent in reflective thought.
    3. Begin the conversation with a specific wondering question, then invite everyone to respond.
    4. Avoid judgment or shame; show respect for every answer, idea, or wondering.
    5. Ask open-ended questions and avoid giving one final answer.
    6. Example of an Active wondering session: (Topic: Bullying)
      1. I wonder, “What does it mean to be a bully?
      2. I wonder, “What does it mean to be a victim of bullying?”   (Silence/active wondering).
      3. I wonder, “Have you ever experienced bullying at your school?”
      4. I wonder how this made you feel..
      5. I wonder, “What should you do when you see someone being a bully or someone being bullied?”
      6. I wonder, “How would God  want us to respond to bullies?”
      7. I wonder, “How does God want us to treat the adults and children we meet?”
    7. Examples of Wondering questions for courageous conversations:
      1. I wonder, “What you have heard about (Insert topic here)?”
      2. I wonder, “How does ______ make you feel?”
      3. I wonder what you wonder about.
      4. I wonder how you experience God in this event/story/discussion.
      5. I wonder, “How is God might be calling calling us to respond?”
    8. Invite participants to respond using various media: journals, verbal words, art, and so on. For those who choose art, ask: “Would you like to tell me/the group about your work?”

       
  3. Faithful listening:
    1. Welcome the silence as people take time for internal processing and reflection. 
    2. If/When someone interrupts another person, remind the interrupter that  [Name] is speaking. Let’s listen to him/her. I know that you would want us to listen to you. You will have a chance to share. Thank you for listening.
    3. Affirm what you hear: “What I hear you saying is…”

       
  4. Honest and Authentic Dialogue
    1. Provide time for all group/family members to share, honoring those who choose to remain silent.
    2. Do your research; be prepared to share your feelings/wonderings/thoughts. If two parents are leading this conversation, try to engage in this process together before inviting your children into the conversation. Also, it is ok to say, “I do not know,” or “That is a good question. I haven’t thought about that. Can we talk about this (Day, time, place)? This gives me time to pray about your question.” (Make sure you are clear and consistent when you suggest meeting day/time/place.)
    3. Honor what the children and other participants already know. Children are very aware of their relationships and the reality of the world around them. Honor their experience by asking them to share what they know or are concerned about.
    4. Use real and honest language.
    5. Do not overshare, evade the truth, or try to sugarcoat reality. Keep it simple. This is not the space for unnecessary or gruesome details, nor is it the time to express long unnecessary rants about a specific topic, person, or ideology.
    6. Use “I” statements, such as “I wonder,” “I feel,” “I am afraid,” “I believe,” and so on.
    7. If a child asks, “Are you and daddy getting a divorce?” A real and honest answer is “Yes. This means that we will not be married anymore and we will not live in the same house together. We will still be your parents and will always love you and be here for you.” Follow up with a question: “I wonder, How does this make you feel? I wonder if there is anything else you wonder about?”

       
  5. Imaginative reflection
    Take time to imagine together, asking: “How is God calling us to respond?”
     

By modeling and practicing these tools, parents, families, and leaders in ministry will create a holy space where all people feel welcomed and respected. This sets the foundation for sacred and courageous conversations where all people can wonder, listen, and imagine together.

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