How can you talk to kids about abortion? Here are some tips
For many parents, the wall-to-wall news coverage of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade means facing some questions from their kids. And that's brought up some questions of their own.
The NPR audience has been sending in their questions, asking for advice. We called in Reena B. Patel, a parenting expert and licensed educational psychologist in San Diego, California, and Dr. Elise Berlan, a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist in Columbus, Ohio, to help get these conversations started.
Here are your questions, and what the experts advise.
"The 9-year-old's just a little confused as to why people would want to get an abortion. And she doesn't understand what happens once they get it. Where does the baby go? Who takes it? It's a lot of questions that I didn't know how to answer."
— Jacqueline Cuevas, Detroit, Michigan
BERLAN: I might think about talking about how some parents need to end the pregnancy and that it might be better and healthier and safer for the parent to end the pregnancy. So, I tend to use kind of terminology about the pregnancy and not refer so much around the baby, even though that can be where children go.
I do think it's OK for parents, after they've shared what an abortion is — as far as they're comfortable sharing — to let young people know that people have a variety of views about abortion. And also, I think it's OK for the parents to share their views because young people do really look to the parents for anchoring on values.
"I want it to be age-appropriate. I don't want to get into too much detail of what it actually is, but just knowing that she can choose if she wants to have a baby or not."
— Meg Workman, Indiana
PATEL: It's important to find out what your child already knows. But use that guiding point to ask your child a simple thing, even, "Do you know where babies come from?" But do it in a way that they're really guiding that conversation, and you're almost scaffolding. You're kind of filling in the pieces.
Parents know your child the best. It shouldn't be something that you feel forced to do. But do understand, when your child is of school age, history is already being taught. They are learning about current affairs, current events, so having those natural conversations is so important.
"How do you invite your kids to wrestle with really complicated, painful, not black-and-white questions in a way that's curious and compassionate without just encouraging them to accept what you think about the issue?"
— Meg Embry, Colorado
PATEL: What I would really recommend is, first, really understanding where you are in this whole process. What are your thoughts? What are your feelings? So much has risen in terms of high-level emotion with the outcomes and the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
So check in with yourself first, then allow for that openness, and check in, empathize, validate what your child says.
I think it's important for parents to use the words, "I feel, I see, I hear." Because what does that do? It shares and shows respectful dialogue happening and that you're letting your child know that you really do hear what they're saying, even though you might have an opposing view or opinion.
"We live in a very conservative area. All of my family that we live near is religious, and they definitely have an opposing view to mine on the abortion issue. And I want her to learn how to be sensitive when talking about this stuff if it ever even does come up."
— James Memmott, Kaysville, Utah
PATEL: It's a great life lesson to teach children that it's OK to have whatever opinion that you have. There's no right or wrong. So it's important to allow them to create their own opinions, but be respectful for others. And then where and when to have these conversations with individuals.
"One concern is making sure that [my 14-year-old-son] understands how these measures affect people with a uterus, him as a male and his choices and responsibility for family planning."
— ShaMecha Simms, Topeka, Kansas
BERLAN: You know, we've talked about — in our family — abortion with our sons. And there's not a perfect time or a perfect conversation. This is a journey. And I think if parents wait for the perfect time or when they have all the information, the risk is that they're not going to have the conversation. And somebody else will. So, I think as parents, we want to kind of share our values and share the information that we have and our point of view with our kids. So that they are prepared to have conversations and process this information within the safety of their family first.
PATEL: It can be very overwhelming. We have to give children, especially young children, just time to process and come back with questions. And we've got families who have multiple children at different ages, so I think it's very important, also, to think about what our little ones are hearing as the older ones are talking. And so do you want, as parents, to have some one-on-one dialogue just separate from the older kids so they're able to hear? Share things that are at their age-appropriate level.
The audio portion of this episode was produced by Karen Zamora and Erika Ryan, with engineering support by Natasha Branch. We'd love to hear from you! Email us at or send a voice note to LifeKit@npr.org . Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.