1. Where babies come from
Arguably no parent is ever ready, nor indeed understands when the time is right to have a chat about the birds and the bees. Truth is, you may not be the first person to have the chat with them, so the earlier the better. That way, you can be in control of the messages that they receive about sex and relationships, not their mate on the bus, or an article they have googled, or even cousin Jane when she last paid a visit. Don't be afraid that you will be in some way promoting sexual promiscuity or planting something in their heads that they choose to experiment with; the evidence does not bear this out. Children who have open conversations with their parents about sex throughout their teen years are far less likely to engage in risky behaviour later on.
2. How to navigate the internet
Think of it this way. The internet is like a very large dustbin and if you allow your children to simply hunt around it, without proper equipment, guidance or controls, you are asking for trouble. The internet is not just available on the home computer where you can peek over their shoulder; it is on their friends' computers and handheld devices too. You have one weapon at your disposal: open and transparent conversations about what lies beneath. After you have done this, and they know you are their first port of call should anything scary pop up, you can focus on the joys of surfing the web! Once children understand digital hygiene and how online activity will leave a digital tattoo, they can learn to embrace the benefits of the Web, its learning potential and maximise on the opportunities it offers. A useful analogy might be: now they have washed their hands, they can start cooking! To have any hope of reaching their potential, our children need to become digital natives.
3. How we experience Loss
It always surprises me how few parents talk to their children about loss, grief or sadness and importantly, how we recover from emotionally upsetting experiences. We can't expect our children to learn 'on the job' as it were. We need to talk about what it feels like to lose someone dear to our hearts, precisely so we can model our resilience. Pets and people die, a normal reaction is to feel sad and perhaps shed tears, but over time we will adapt and learn to live again. That is the message our children need to hear. Sheltering them from the vocabulary of grief is unhelpful. As their parents, we need to explain that life is full of troughs and peaks (hopefully more of the latter), but that this is part of being human. I believe that children inherit fear and we give them a great gift by telling them that challenging things will happen, but that there is life beyond these experiences.
4. Why learning matters
Children are natural learners. They need no persuasion to start playing, finding adventure or dreaming and imagining new worlds. Sustaining this curiosity for learning is critical to academic success and well-being. By loving learning, by being a family committed to life-long learning, we model an approach to life that is appreciative and open to challenges and opportunities. If you only do three things: model this approach, teach them to question everything and encourage a sense of adventure within family life.
5. How a democracy works
We live in a troubled world. Amid the chaos, disorder and fragmentation, teach your child the values that you believe in, and explain why you hold them. Teach them to value living in a society where people are free to express their views, to have respect for the Law and help them understand the consequences for those who break it. Help them to weigh up and think about contemporary social issues and politics. Don't expect or hope that they will agree with you about everything. The key point is to encourage them to think critically about what they see and read around them, so that one day, they might hold views born from their own intuition, experience and thought-processes. In short, teach them to care about the society around them, and the importance of trusting one's judgment.