PARENTS

What One Group Of Foster Children Can Teach You About Having Honest Conversations With Your Child

28/02/2015 22:37 | Updated 20 May 2015

Small boy talking to his mother

There are loads of conversations we'd love to dodge with our children - like explaining the causes of homelessness, or how some young people end up in difficult situations like poverty or foster care.

It's easy to whitewash sensitive issues, easier still to ignore them altogether. But when we're afraid to have an honest conversation about an issue, we're teaching our children they need to be nervous too.

Breaking an Uncomfortable Silence

When George went into foster care with his brother, he decided he didn't like the conversation surrounding foster children. Most kids were ashamed of being in care and didn't want to talk about it. When adults discussed the issue, they talked in stereotypes: foster children are less likely to finish school, attend university or contribute to society.

So when the London Borough of Enfield decided to reform their Children in Care Council, George knew he needed to speak up.

"Many young people felt like the system was letting them down. They had a lot to say, but didn't know how or where to say it," explains George, now 18. With a handful of peers he dedicated himself to reaching other children in care and starting a conversation around their shared experiences. They call it KRATOS, from the Greek word for 'power'.

"It's a very, very powerful thing. Many young people in care don't discuss their situation," says George. "We give them a forum to be themselves so they can discuss the problems that they're going through without any judgment."

KRATOS helps foster children discuss their rights and influence the training of caregivers. With 120 children attending the weekly events he helps organise, George has seen his peers gain the confidence to give speeches and lead workshops. Last year they won a Diana Award for their leadership.

Now, as KRATOS looks to expand to other boroughs, they're the leading the foster care conversation in a positive direction.

Change the tone, not the topic

A lot of parents could learn from George. When we avoid talking about uncomfortable issues, we give them power over us. Having honest conversations with your child can help them build confidence and break down stereotypes. Here are a few tips:

1. If your child brings up a sticky issue, ask them to explain their own feelings on the issue. If questions come up, write them down so you can research them later.

2. Find out what resources exist on the issue. Research websites, videos and organisations that can provide good information and context.

3. Check in often to see how your child is feeling as they learn more about issues. Talk through any points of confusion.

4. If your child continues to show interest in the issue, consider arranging an opportunity for them to get involved first-hand. Set up a volunteer day or introduce them to a service group that works on the issue.

Want more tips for raising socially conscious children? Free The Children is an international charity and educational partner with 19 years of experience empowering bright young minds to take action on issues they care about. Visit www.freethechildren.co.uk to access free educational activities and action campaigns you can do at home with your child.

Every year we celebrate young service leaders at an event series called We Day, featuring inspirational speakers and performers like Prince Harry, Malala Yousafzai and Ellie Goulding. Learn more about the We Day movement at weday.com/uk and join us with your child for a livestream of We Day UK hosted on AOL on 5 March.

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