How to talk to your child about abortion and Roe v. Wade

·8 min read
Experts recommend having open, meaningful conversations with your children about abortion and the Roe v Wade decision
Experts recommend having open, meaningful conversations with your children about abortion and the Roe v Wade decision. (Getty Images)

With coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade permeating social media and cable news, demonstrators taking to the streets and the topic of abortion being discussed in many households, children will naturally have questions about what it all means.

Some parents may choose to initiate a conversation on Roe v. Wade and abortion with their child, while others may prefer to wait for their child to come to them. Susan Bartell, a psychologist and author of The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask, tells Yahoo Life that if your kid asks questions, it’s best not to evade the subject.

“If your child does come to you, then I would strongly recommend not avoiding the conversation,” Bartell says. “Even if you’re squirmy about it, I would say you need to kind of buck it up and have a meaningful conversation with them.”

There's no one-size-fits-all script on how to talk with your child about abortion and Roe v. Wade, and experts emphasize that parents know their child best and can gauge what their child is emotionally mature enough to handle. But there are some best practices parents can use.

Be as straightforward as possible

Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine, tells Yahoo Life that planning in advance what you’d like to say to your child can help ensure that you’re sharing accurate, age-appropriate information.

If you're upset over Roe v. Wade being overturned, “you may want to temper your own emotions so your child doesn’t pick them up so much," Borba says. "Be as factual as you can, but also take a moment to breathe so you can share your concerns.”

For older children, Borba says using appropriate terminology like “pregnancy” and “fetus” can be helpful and also illuminate how much your child already knows — or doesn't know — about the subject.

“They’re going to hear those terms probably from somebody else, and chances are they don’t have it correct. So here’s your chance to be able to open it up,” Borba says. “What kind of words have they been exposed to? You don’t want to turn this into a vocabulary drill, but at the same time you want to be sure that they have the terminology correct.”

Bartell says that, in an ideal world, parents would discuss abortion and Roe v. Wade “as neutrally as possible.” But she admits that maintaining total objectivity is an impossible order for most parents.

“[Parents] want their kids to join their belief system,” Bartell says. “They want their kids to believe what they believe. Most parents are going to explain Roe v. Wade or abortion through their own lens. In that case, what’s important is that kids are told by their parents that not everyone believes the same thing, and we need to be respectful of all different points of view — even if they’re different from ours and even if we don’t agree with them.”

Listen more than you talk

The experts Yahoo Life spoke with singled out listening to your child as a crucial part of any family’s conversation on abortion and Roe v. Wade — or any tough topic.

“Whenever I’m asked about what to say to kids about the news, I kind of reframe it as what to listen for and how to respond,” Tara Conley, an assistant professor of media studies at the Kent State University School of Media and Journalism, tells Yahoo Life. “It's really important to acknowledge that most of us adults, we don’t have all the answers, and we’re still trying to make sense of everything. And it’s OK for kids to know that.”

Bartell says that rather than prioritizing their own agenda, parents should listen, ask questions and let their child lead the conversation.

“The goal is to have a conversation with your child that makes them feel like they can keep coming back to you, and that you are listening hard to them and responding to them and answering their questions,” Bartell says. “That’s what’s going to make your kids always have open communication with you, rather than you talking at them.”

Borba agrees, saying that parents should focus on being receptive — even if your child says things you don’t agree with.

“Be careful, because your child may have a different opinion than you,” Borba says. “So what you want to do is hear them out, and say, ‘Thank you, I didn’t know you thought that way. Tell me more.’”

This shouldn’t be just one conversation

Experts say parents shouldn’t expect to resolve complex topics, such as abortion and Roe v. Wade, with their child in one afternoon.

“Talking with kids about the news is a process,” Conley says. “It’s not just a moment in time. Adults will have to come back to these conversations.”

Borba also cautions against having one long, drawn-out discussion. Instead, she suggests breaking it up into “little nuggets” that are easier for a child to digest — and which can become longer conversations as your child gets older.

“I always say: talk, stop, listen. Talk a little bit, and then stop,” suggests Borba. “Because your kid is trying to process what the heck you’re talking about.”

Having open, frank dialogues with your child from an early age is important not only for educating your kid, but also to help parents become comfortable with having intimate and sometimes tricky conversations so that you can tackle any subject matter with your child.

“We have to be talking to all children starting at a very young age about how everyone’s body is private and how we need to respect the privacy of each other’s bodies,” Bartell says. “That’s really the first conversation to have, honestly, in terms of opening up conversations about abortion.”

She adds: “It’s about setting the groundwork with your child of talking about hard topics like abortion — which, whatever side you land on, is still a hard topic.”

Use this as an opportunity to discuss civic engagement

Especially for younger children, some memes, images and videos of heated protests in the news and on social media can be disturbing, and Bartell says having the news running constantly in your house can trigger anxiety and depression for small children and teenagers alike. So sometimes it can be a good idea to step back and give your family a break from the 24-hour news cycle.

But if your child is coming across footage of protests and marches in the wake of the recent SCOTUS decision, this can also be a good opportunity to broach the topic of civic engagement and being a force for change in a peaceful way.

“I think that you have to explain to your child that some people feel extremely passionate about what they believe in, and in this country, protesting is one way of communicating to the people who make decisions what we want,” Bartell says. “And as long as the protesting is peaceful and respectful, it’s a very effective way of communicating to the leaders of the country what the people want. But what’s not OK is when people get violent and angry and aggressive toward the other side.”

Borba says how parents might choose to get their kids involved in the wake of Roe v. Wade can vary, depending on how old the child is and what they’re comfortable with. She says some parents may attend protests with their child, while other parents might help their child write letters, pray or just talk about it.

“Find the way that helps your child kindle hope and recognize that any time there’s a huge disagreement, there’s another, peaceful way,” Borba says. “What’s the way you’re going to help your child go forward?”

Conley says that while the recent SCOTUS decision can be a great opportunity to talk to your child about political organizing and civic engagement, it’s also important to explain that the process “can be very slow and thankless, but it can lead to change.”

She adds: “I think organizing online and via social media resonates with young people, and that can be emphasized as a kind of a tool for change, too.”

As for younger children, Conley says she likes to turn to Mr. Rogers’s famous advice to “look for the helpers” when events in the news can be scary or difficult to process.

“For younger kids — even for me — I love that idea of looking for the helpers,” Conley says. “Those are the people who will support you when you’re down. And reassuring kids that even though this is a very scary moment, they may see scary images or they may internalize what’s happening, there’s always people around them that can help them get through this moment.”

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