How to talk with your child about abortion – A guide from One Family
One Family is aware that many parents are struggling to answer questions from their children about the abortion referendum and the associated posters, leaflets and online content. We would like to offer some support to parents so they can talk with their children with confidence. Parents are also welcome to contact our askonefamily helpline on 1890662212 or 016629212
Here are some thoughts and tips for different aged children that you may find useful in the coming weeks. As a parent remember, you know your child best and know what they are capable of understanding.
Children aged 3-5 years
As the campaign heats up there will be visual images on posters, leaflets and the media that children as young as 3-5 years old may notice and ask why. Of course at this age, children are far too young to understand the complexity of abortion. But they may be upset or confused by some of the images that are used in the campaign.
For parents the key things to remember are:
- Think about the age of your child when you are giving them information. Decide what is appropriate for them and what they can understand. It is important to help them learn, not to scare them or leave them feeling worried about issues. Think about the language your kids use and the stories your kids are familiar with try and put it into a language that they will understand.
- If your young child asks why there is a picture of a baby on a poster, explain to them that there is a big thing called a vote on right now. This is a time when people in our country have to decide about something, just like your child has to decide. Tell them that people think many different things, just like your child may. You can explain to them that some people are using images to show what to decide and they would like others to hear their voice about this, just like your child wants to be heard when they have something to say.
- If your child asks what the vote is about you can tell them that this is when a woman decides she is not ready to be a mum. She can go to the hospital and get support with this and this vote is about how to help the women.
- Reassure your child that it is okay for people to make decisions and make their voice heard. However, also reassure them that these are only pictures and that they do not need to worry about the babies.
- Try to then bring them back to more positive, easier to manage situations appropriate to their age. However, remember they will ask again tomorrow. They may ask more about what a vote is or some other word you used when talking with them.
- Be patient and continue to use your good parenting skills – listen and take time to answer their questions in an age appropriate way. Explain to them and reassure them. Do it all again tomorrow and the next day until they are clear and are fully reassured.
Children aged 6-10 years
Children in this age group can take a great interest in what is going on around them, in their school, their local community and in their home. You will find they may be listening in on adult conversations more frequently, or listening to what is on the news as they are becoming very curious about the bigger world around them.
The campaigns on the upcoming referendum for the repeal of the 8th amendment will generate great curiosity for them. As a parent some key issues for you to consider in order to support your child in the coming weeks include:
- Firstly, you need to be clear on where you stand on the issue of the referendum to repeal the 8th amendment. Understanding why you have your opinion and being able to explain this to your child in an age appropriate way is key to helping them.
- At this age, factual information is still often what they require.
- Explain to your child clearly what abortion is. Simple accurate wording is that ‘abortion is when a woman chooses to no longer be pregnant and her pregnancy is ended with a procedure called an abortion’. Another word for abortion is termination.
- In Ireland we do not have the ability to have abortions and we are now being asked to vote to decide if we should allow women in Ireland to be able to make the decision to have an abortion or not.
- Right now if a woman decides she does not want to be pregnant, she can go to England or another country and have the operation there. She can also take tablets in Ireland but she cannot have any help from doctors here doing this. This does not work for many women and has caused them problems.
- Tell your child there are many reasons that women decide to have an abortion. You can tell them if you feel strongly either way. However try to stick to facts. At this age, they may not necessarily want to know, or have the capacity to understand what you believe. They want facts and knowledge. Children want to know why there are posters and why people are talking about the issue.
- When they reach the next stage of development then it may be the right time to talk with them about what you believe about abortion and related issues.
Children aged 11 years and older
Children of this age range will hopefully have a good understanding of reproduction, sexuality and they may also be starting to experience relationships. Parents and schools will have hopefully have spoken in great detail with these young people about how their bodies work, how babies are formed and the importance of sex and relationships. Some young girls may already have started their period and may be very conscious of how a girl or woman can become pregnant. Many young people in this age range will be starting puberty so sexual development will be a key issue for them. Some areas to consider when supporting adolescents include:
- These children and young people will need a lot of support from parents and adults around them to help them understand what the referendum to repeal the 8th amendment is all about. Making time to sit and talk with them is really important as they may not always proactively come to you and ask you their questions. However it is always best they get good information from their parents rather than mixed messages through social media, friends and the larger community.
- For many parents it may seem easy to close down the conversation and offer moral reasoning to young people, however they may still not understand what the voting is all about. So it is important to try, no matter what you feel about the topic to explore it gently with them.
- Explain what the legal situation is in Ireland. Women do not have the ability to end a pregnancy here unless they decide to travel abroad or access pills online without medical care.
- Ensure they know what an abortion is. An abortion is when a woman has a medical procedure or takes special medication that will result in her no longer being pregnant.
- Think about what you would want for your child, young person if they experienced an unplanned or crisis pregnancy in the future. Would you want them to have a choice? Have you raised them to know they should always have options and that you will support them in the choices they make, although some will have very difficult and serious consequences?
- Talk with young people about the importance of relationships, of contraception and consent within relationships. Help them to understand all the key issues they need to explore and understand so crisis pregnancy will hopefully never be an issue that they are presented with. However help them to understand clearly the issue of access to abortion that is presenting today in Ireland.
- Your young people are not old enough to vote, so you do not need to convince them of what they should think. It is about giving them good clear information and allowing them form their own opinions, just as you most likely do with so many other issues that have come up over the years. Respecting their opinion will encourage them to respect your opinion.