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Six tips for fostering healthy conversation on tough topics

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1. ESTABLISH A SAFE SPACE: Designating a location for honest communication — whether the family room, dinner table or bedroom — is vital. 

2. GET EVERYONE ON BOARD: Sit down with all household members in your safe space and make promises to each other, such as mutual respect, not raising your voice, making sure everyone has a chance to speak and feel heard. Be honest, kind, non-judgmental and, if appropriate, funny. Have fun with these; the more connected your child feels to these ground rules, the better. Use their language. Write down the promises and display them in your safe space.  

3. USE THE GROUND RULES: Refer to these rules when opening a conversation. Reassure your children they can be open and honest in the safe space without fear of being judged or getting into trouble. 

4. BE POSITIVE: Use the safe space to talk about positive and encouraging topics, such as your child's creativity, interests and abilities, as frequently as the tough subjects. This will reinforce self-esteem and encourage openness for the tough conversations too.

5. SAY THANK YOU: When broaching tough subjects, refer to the ground rules and thank your child for agreeing to hold this safe space so you can discuss something that's been on your mind. 

6. GROW TOGETHER: The ground rules should mature as your child matures. Make your list of shared values an evolving document for your family to add to and revise together; ensure they are unique to your culture and needs. This might include something like a no-smartphone zone or a drama-free area.

• Ryanmarie Rice Tover, former chief of staff, Compass Community Center 

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