Difficult conversations are a part of life and it is a large part of our job working in SEL. Although what is a difficult conversation might change from person to person, but typically we can all agree that difficult conversations are ones that either party has varying opinions or that causes anxiety within one or both parties. We wanted to discuss some ways that might help us during those conversations with our students and peers.
“3 steps to having difficult — but necessary — conversations”, written by Daryl Chen on Ted.com, suggested that when having a difficult conversation one should lean into the conflict or the difficult topic instead of steering away from it. This is an important concept to remember especially when discussing difficult topics with kids because it teaches them how to behave in a similar situation and the importance of the conversation at hand. We can all remember a time when someone brushed off an important topic to you because they did not want to insult or upset anyone, but by ignoring the topic it makes the final conversation about it that much more difficult for all parties involved.
Not only is it key for you to lean into the difficulty of the conversation, but it is also necessary to actively listen to the other parties involved. This article by Unerstood provides a few more tips for having a difficult conversation – although it is aimed at couples, it provides some great general tips on having difficult conversations. It also discusses the importance of actively listening to the other party and picking an appropriate time to have the conversation.
Now, sometimes it may seem hard to actively listen to a group of fifth graders when discussing racism or bullying, but showing that you are there to listen helps to build the relationship and it shows that each voice is important – another aspect of having difficult conversations. Psychology Today reminds us of the importance of staying on topic when having difficult conversations. Rushing through the conversation prevents us from fully explaining the situation and makes the other party feel as if the topic at hand is not important.
Although the previous articles are based on conversations between adults they help us lay the basic foundations for having difficult conversations with children too. The American Psychological Association and Parents.com notes that when having a difficult conversation with children we need to pick an appropriate time, listen to their thoughts on the topic, and to reassure them about the conversation. Common Sense Media discusses some ways to have difficult conversations with children of all ages. The article discusses the idea of using language that is easily understood by the children you are speaking with – we do not want to use words that make the general understanding of the topic or conversation that much more difficult.
We hope that this article provides a light at the end of the tunnel when facing difficult conversations, both with your students and your peers.