How Books Can Help Parents Tackle Tough Topics with Kids

by Dena McMurdie

Photo credit: gradyreese, E+ Collection/Getty Images

While my daughters and I enjoy reading for fun and entertainment, I’m grateful for books that encourage us to dig deeper and explore tough topics. Whether we’re having a conversation about puberty or discussing the unique challenges of immigrants, books give us a window to experiences and conversations that we might not have otherwise.

Books provide a natural entry into big conversations.

A few months ago, I read Red Butterfly by A.L. Sonnichsen to my two oldest daughters. It’s about a young Chinese girl named Kara with a deformed hand who was abandoned as an infant. Her Mama is an elderly American woman who illegally took her in and illegally stayed in China to raise her. When their secret is discovered, Mama is deported, and Kara is sent to a Chinese orphanage to await adoption by an American family.

My children practically exploded with questions as we read. Why was Kara abandoned? Why did she and Mama have to hide all the time? How come Mama got in trouble for helping Kara?

While we read, we had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of tough topics like immigration, international laws, orphanages, culture, and the treatment of girls and women around the world.

Books provide context for tough topics.

While I probably would have talked to my kids about these issues eventually, reading Red Butterfly provided me the perfect opportunity to broach those subjects. Not only did it encourage my kids to ask questions, but it also provided an emotional experience, making our conversations both meaningful and memorable.

That wasn’t the first time a book triggered discussions with my children. When my oldest daughter read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, we had a long talk about animal rights, endangered species, and the treatment of animals in captivity. And Wonder by R.J. Palacio gave us the chance to talk about bullying and kindness.

Books can answer your family’s specific questions or needs.

The conversations prompted by Red Butterfly, The One and Only Ivan, and Wonder all happened because we read those books. But sometimes, I’ll seek out a book to help answer a specific question my children have.

As my girls enter their tween years, I’m faced with conversations that make hugging a porcupine sound like fun. However, flipping through a copy of Girl to Girl: Honest Talk About Growing Up and Your Changing Body by Sarah O’Leary Burningham with my daughters eases the awkwardness of talking about puberty. It teaches my kids about their bodies in a positive, conversational way, and helps them know what to expect in the coming years.

As the mother of three growing daughters, I’m grateful for books that spark meaningful conversations and answer those awkward life questions. I can’t think of a better way to tackle tough subjects with my kids than with a book.