Growing up is hard, but growing up during a global pandemic, political unrest, climate change, and a 24-hour news cycle is unprecedented! As an adult I can often feel overwhelmed by it all, so I can only imagine what our young people might be feeling. With all that is happening around us, along with the regular challenges of life, young people are bound to have questions!
As troop leaders, volunteers, parents, and caregivers we have an important role in the lives of our Girl Scouts. Given all our girls are facing it is inevitable for tough conversation topics to come up. In order to build girls of courage, confidence and character we need to provide them with safe spaces to process what is happening around them.
It can be frightening when a tough subject comes up, but keep in mind that some of the hardest things to talk about are often the most important! So here are 5 tips to help you prepare to tackle tough topics and conversations:
- Keep the conversation GIRL LED.
In Girl Scouts, we know that girls are most interested and passionate about the topics THEY pick, including tough or sensitive topics. While it might be tempting to quickly change the subject when a tough topic comes up, avoiding hard things doesn’t help anyone. If a Girl Scout brings up a hard topic it is a sign, she trusts you or feels safe and hushing the topic could result in feelings of shame and confusion.
Instead of changing the subject, if able, give her your full attention. If the topic was brought up at a challenging time, acknowledge that and make a plan for the discussion at a time when you can give your full attention. Do not make assumptions about the girl’s feelings or understanding on a topic, have them share what they know in their own words. Practice active listening and validate what they are sharing. If a girl has disclosed a sensitive personal story, do not ask detail-oriented questions but instead reflect or repeat back what she is saying and feeling to make sure you understand. Using statements like “it sounds like you are feeling” or “I hear you saying” can be helpful in clarifying and validating feelings and statements.
- Keep conversation judgment free and strength based.
Talking about sensitive or tough topics can be a vulnerable experience so it is important create a safe space. If planning ahead for a tough topic, have the girls establish ground rules for the conversation or space (no judgement, name-calling, interrupting, etc.). When the girls are sharing and expressing their thoughts avoid sharing your judgements or speculations. If something hard is shared, remain calm and don’t add to the stress with your reaction. An intense reaction can make something feel scarier and harder, try to meet the girl where she’s at emotionally.
Practice and role model empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings. While practicing empathy we are not trying to fix, rescue, or solve a problem, we are instead providing support by connecting through shared feelings. Empathy helps us consider the other person’s point of view. If there are disagreements between your girls, ask them to consider what the other person is feeling. When discussing tough news stories, talk about what those impacted may be feeling. One of the ultimate benefits of empathy is the ability to consider the other person’s perspective when solving conflicts or figuring out compromise.
While affirming hard feelings or concerns, it is also important to help girls find hope and see their strengths. Recognize how brave it is to share feelings and talk about difficult topics. Empower by acknowledging their strength and ability to make positive change. Tough conversations can be a time to discuss what courage, confidence, and character mean to them in relation to what is going on in their community and world.
- Breathe. You don’t have to be the expert!
As the adult you may feel pressure to know the answers or have solutions. Try not to be distracted by this pressure or trying to say exactly the “right” thing. Many times, just having a supportive listening ear can be what’s needed most.
When discussing a hard topic only share what you know is true. If you aren’t sure, be honest and suggest you find the answers together. Make space for sharing knowledge and experiences but never single out a girl to answer a question or speak for her racial, ethnic, or religious group. Empower the girls to find their own answers with developmentally appropriate resources on related topics. Books on the topics of race, diversity, discrimination, grief, and important related issues can be helpful resources.
- Safety is always first!
When working with or around young people, safety is always a consideration. As adults it is our responsibility to keep the young people around us safe. If a girl discloses any form of abuse it needs to be reported to child protective services. As the adult who she disclosed to it is not your job to investigate, or find out more information, but simply provide support and report to child protective services. You do not have to be sure or have proof of abuse, if there is any suspicion it is better to be safe and report. It can feel scary to make a report but it may result in the girl and family connecting to services they need. If you are unsure if a report should be made you can call the Childline hotline and discuss concerns.
The toll-free hotline, 1-800-932-0313, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to receive reports of suspected child abuse. Mandated reporters can report electronically.
- That was tough. Take care of yourself!
Tough conversations can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. Remember to take some time to practice good self-care! If able, at the end of the conversation take time to debrief and process feelings that may have come up. Make a self-care plan for the remainder of the day. Respect the privacy of information disclosed but if you are feeling heavy after the conversation reach out for support. Taking deep breaths, a walk, or time for creative processing can all be helpful ways to release some feelings and care for yourself.
Check out additional resources for common tough topics:
- Help Your Kids Take Action Against Racism
- Guide for leading tough conversations
- Children’s Books about Diversity and Inclusion
- Books for body positivity
- Resource for healthy relationships
- Resources for bullying
- Resources to Help Students Understand Gender
- Tips to talk to kids about climate change
If your a GSHPA volunteer and interested in learning more about responding to hard conversations, check out our upcoming Volunteer Conference where I will be talking more on the subject!