Health Wise: How to Get (and Keep) Kids Talking About the Tough Stuff

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In our last blog, we shared some ideas on prompts to get kids talking and keep kids talking. As this school year went into full swing, many of us were finding our kids stressed but struggling to talk about it. If you are wondering how to get them to open up and get them talking about their struggles, you can find some strategies in our first blog here.

Here we want to go a step further and address how to talk about hard things, like correcting misinformation and de-escalating anxiousness, and not shut kids down. It’s important to validate whatever our kids are feeling, and provide empathetic statements. However, it’s equally important to guide them away from assumptions/exaggerations and non-factual things they may have picked up from others or let their anxiety convince them is true. So how can we do all of the above? Here are some sample scenarios.

For example, if a kid is saying, “everyone in my entire school is sick. It’s just a matter of time until I am, too.” You can say, “I hear you. You’re worried about getting sick. It feels like everyone else is right now” This is the validation part, and very important to do first if you wish to keep your child talking. Your child will feel safer knowing you’re listening and providing a place to explore their feelings.

You can later ask, “would it be helpful to brainstorm some ways to help you feel safer at school?” This gently offers problem-solving, but if they just want to express their feelings first from an emotional part of their brain, then it’s not the right time to problem-solve. Listening and reflecting back may help soothe them until they’re ready to discuss more.

Once their rational thinking comes back on line and they’re calm, you can this is the time to correct misinformation. “Sounds like you needed to talk about why you were worried.. It does seem like everyone is sick, but I am wondering if there are lots of healthy kids, too. Most importantly, what would help you feel safer at school?”

This type of conversation can also work if kids are catastrophizing other things, such as “Everyone at school hates me” or “I’m bad at everything” or even “I hate my life.”In the last scenario, it is important to reach out to a crisis hotline and/or get a professional evaluation if you find out that they are thinking about ending their life (see resources at end of email).

As you get your kid to open up to you about their feelings, and you’re able to validate those feelings, gently move towards offering support. The following types of statements can present gentle, non-authoritative ways to offer support (also mentioned in our last blog), and allow the child to feel in control of accepting the support:

“What can I do to support you this year?”

“Tell me something I can do differently for you than I have been”

“If I understand correctly, you want me to ___ “

“It sounds like you would feel ___ if I did ___ “

Kids have very real feelings, and they often feel worried we won’t take them seriously, or that we will push solutions on them that they aren’t comfortable with. They want to be heard and validated, but many of them also want autonomy to figure out how to solve their own problems. They want to know we trust them to work things out, but that we’re still there as a gentle support system for them.

It’s been a hard year and a half, and things are still uncertain and changing. Let’s keep the conversations going, and help kids know that their feelings are valid and that we are their allies

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