It can be tough for parents to know how to talk about big feelings with their children. But by using some simple techniques, you can help your kids express their emotions in a healthy way. Here are 6 ways to talk about big feelings with your kids.
However, in my experience as a psychologist and parent, I have found that most children want to talk, but we inadvertently shut them down. In our attempt to protect them and take away their pain, we want to solve the problem for them as quickly as possible, jumping into giving advice, lecturing or talking about our own experience. For most kids, this is a conversation killer.
Simple changes in the way we approach the conversation can make a big difference.
6 Ways to Talk About Big Feelings
Create an open and safe environment.
Let your child know that they can come to you when they need help. Let them know you won’t be angry if they need help solving a problem or fixing something they might have done wrong. Kids often shut down if they think their parents will overreact or react negatively to an issue.
Listen and don’t speak. If you asked a question and received no reply, give it time.
Silence can be uncomfortable, and we can feel like we need to fill the silence by rewording our questions or helping the child formulate an answer. Some kids find it difficult to verbalise their feelings and need extra time to put it into words. Once your child starts to talk about the problem, listen and resist the urge to speak. Children want to feel heard and understood.
Don’t give advice (unless requested).
When a child talks about their feelings, they often only want to vent, be heard and feel validated. They want you to see they are having a hard time and want your empathy, not your words of wisdom. When your child shares a big feeling with you, sit with their feeling for a while. Validate their feelings by saying, “This must have been very hard for you” or “I can imagine how angry this made you feel.” Once they have finished venting, you can ask them questions about how THEY plan to deal with the issue by saying, “What do you think you can do about this?” then you can make yourself available if needed by saying, “If you need my help, you can come and ask me. I’m here for you.” This will help your child feel like you are working with them and not lecturing them.
Change the way you structure your sentences.
Minor changes to how you ask a question can make or break your conversation. Try restructuring your questions and stay silent after you ask.
Instead of saying:
“What did she do to you?”
“You are clearly upset. I wonder what she did to you?”
Instead of saying:
“What is good about …?”
“What is the best part of…?”
Give them space.
Give your child the space to process their emotions by themselves. Every child is learning to identify, regulate and act on their emotions. During this process, children need to sit with their feelings and then learn to talk about them with your assistance (when they are ready). Giving a child space and allowing them the time they need to feel strong enough or comfortable enough to talk about it is a demonstration of respect and trust.
Engage in a fun activity.
If you feel your child needs to talk but is not ready to open up, try engaging in an activity they like, such as crafting, drawing, painting, playing with clay, completing a puzzle or going for a walk. It helps them feel at ease by losing themselves into something they love and helps them open up about what is on their mind.
Allowing your child to feel their feelings and encouraging them to connect with you in their own time will help them become more emotionally intelligent.
You can use the Superpower Kids Talk to Me Note printable to let your child know you are there for them no matter how big or how small the problem is.