"Teaching a child about social change"

It’s fun (and, yes, horrifying) to explain to your kids that when you were their age, televisions weren’t flat, you had to “rewind” a “tape” before being able to listen to a song again, and that letters were written on paper and sent through the post office instead of immediately via computer.

If only it were as easy as teaching her to ride a bike!

It’s harder to talk about the bigger ways that society has changed since you were a kid.

At heart, kids are open and honest creatures: They don’t understand discrimination or choosing whether or not to like or trust someone based upon societal pressure. As they get older, these ideas become less abstract and more concrete, but when they are young, explaining the ways in which society has changed — even since you were a kid — can be difficult.

Unfortunately, simply glossing over bigger issues (for example, saying “Things were different when Grandma was a girl, that’s all”) doesn’t sate a child’s curiosity — it spurs it on. So what do you, as a good parent, do when your son or daughter asks harder questions or needs help understanding uncomfortable subjects?

Quiet Your Discomfort

Kids pick up on and internalize even the tiniest queues. If your daughter senses that you aren’t comfortable talking about something, she might feel bad for asking or start to believe that asking questions about that subject is the wrong thing to do.

Even if you are uncomfortable talking openly or honestly with your kids about bigger and societal issues, do your best to put that discomfort out of your mind.

Simple Words

Remember: You’ve had time to develop a vocabulary for these sorts of situations. Your kids haven’t. Talk about the problem simply. Don’t dress up your language to avoid using words you don’t like or that make you uncomfortable.

When in doubt, use the scientific or medical term for something. Beyond that, the fewer syllables, the better.

Be Direct

You can talk about how a situation makes your child feel after you actually answer her questions. Answer your kids’ questions as simply and directly as possible.

This is also applicable when you have to be the one to bring up a subject or to put something into historical or social context. Get to the point, even if it hurts. You can talk about the feelings once you explain the facts.

Use Metaphor

This is particularly helpful when you are talking about social change with younger kids. Little kids often have trouble understanding the abstract. Putting a situation into a context they can understand will help them, for lack of a better phrase, “get the point.”

Use whatever resources you’ve got! 

Be careful here: It’s one thing to use metaphor. It’s another to “dumb it down.” Finding a balance between the two takes time.

Ask Questions

Ask your kids how they feel and what they think about the things you’ve talked about. This keeps the lines of communication open and helps you get onto the same page.

It also shows your kids that you do care about what they think and that you are there to help them understand. It encourages them to feel comfortable talking with you, even about difficult and confusing subjects.


Every child is different. Talking about social change with one child is going to look, feel, and go down completely differently than talking about it with another. Try to remember this when you’re trying to help your kids understand why something matters to some people but not to others, generational gaps in opinions, and other types of social change.

You know your kids best. You also know what works and what doesn’t within your family’s structure. Use your instincts and play to your strengths.

Have you recently had to talk to your kids about social change? What are some of the things you did to help the conversation go well?

Erin Steiner writes full time from her home in Portland, Oregon. She has covered topics ranging from profiling professionals (like Gary Crittenden ) to social issues and everything in between.

 Image courtesy of DigitalArt / FreeDigitalPhotos.Net