7 ways to kickstart a conversation with your child
Do you find it difficult to talk with your child about how he or she is feeling? We have gathered different methods that can help loosen your child’s tongue.
You can use these methods as a conversation opener on topics that are difficult to talk about. These methods can be helpful for parents and concerned adults to start a conversation with the child or the adolescent boy or girl if they are concerned for his or her well-being.
When dealing with younger children remember that they might go from playing one minute to crying the next, and changeable moods make maintaining the child’s attention for long periods of time difficult. This is why you should engage in conversation whenever the opportunity arises, and resume the conversation later on when the child stops paying attention.
When adults get puzzled by a situation and they don’t quite understand what is going on, they often ask too many questions, which can be very overwhelming for the child – all these questions can feel like a huge burden.
Questions can actually feel unpleasant when your child is uncertain about what is happening and why they are reacting. In this case your child needs you to lead the way and tell them what you are thinking and why you are enquiring about their well-being.
In most cases there are a connection between your child’s behaviour and their current circumstance. Your child always has a good reason for how they are behaving, use their behaviour to ask questions that makes them talk about their feelings
Don’t be afraid to make interpretations.
It takes experience to make interpretation of your own reactions and way of acting, and not every child or adolescent is able to do this yet. This is why you shouldn’t be afraid to make your own interpretations of what is going on with your child’s emotional life. Keep on guessing – your child will let you know if some of your interpretations is spot on. Don’t be afraid to make wrong assumptions, by doing so you both get practice in clarifying cause and effect.
In need of a conversation opener? We have gathered some advice on how you can kickstart a more serious conversation with your child.
- Use your child’s behaviour as a starting point and talk about your observations.
You might use sentences such as:
“You seem more easily agitated these days than usual.”
“I have noticed that you have become quieter lately.”
“I sense you would rather not talk about . . .”
- Tell your child what you think is going on.
This a way for you to share your explanation of the situation and idea of what is bothering your child – sort of like thinking out loud. You should provide your child with several explanations, so he or she can choose the one that represents their emotions best. You might use sentences such as:
“Maybe this is happening because you are worried about . . .”
“I have been thinking if this is caused by . . .”
“I think, maybe this is happening because it is difficult understanding why . . .”
- Match your explanations with the child
Encourage the child to share how they feel about your explanations and ideas – is there some truth in them. You might use sentences such as:
“How does this make you feel?”
“How does this affect you?”
“Can you use this in any way?”
“What do you make of my suggestions?”
“Is this something you have already thought about?”
“Are you surprised by my questioning?”
- When the child says, “I don’t know.”
There could be many reasons as to why your child replies, “I don’t know.”
Maybe your questions are too demanding. Maybe you are two steps ahead of your child in your notion of the problem. If this is the case you should rethink your tactic and dial down the questions.
Maybe the topic is too difficult to talk about. If so, then see if you can figure out exactly what your child is trying to get out of your conversation in order to get them to open up. How can you make your child feel safe while opening up? Maybe your child doesn’t want to confide in you about this specific topic. If this is the case, consider if there is another adult that your child could confide in.
Another reason could be that the child is having difficulties voicing their concerns on the topic. Many people – children much like adults – find talking about their emotional lives. Especially younger children have a hard time understanding why they feel certain feelings in certain situations. In these situations, it helps asking the child: “Can you draw what you are thinking of?”. Often when children draw the thoughts and emotions they are having trouble voicing will come out. This way they deal with the stuff that troubles them.
- Acknowledge the child’s reactions
When you engage in difficult conversations with your child, it is extremely important that you acknowledge their effort to open up. You must acknowledge what the child is telling you, whether you agree or not is irrelevant. You might use the following sentences:
“I understand why you feel this way because . . .” or “That is very understandable”
“These feelings are normal”
“I think I would have felt exactly the same way”
“Your feelings and behavior are completely normal”¨
- Uncover what your child needs
Children often know what they think might help them. Uncover what your child needs and team up with your child in order to help them in the best way possible. You might use the following sentences:
“Would it help you if . . .”
“If you could do magic what would you change using your magic?”
“Can we in some way make it easier for you to talk about this?”
- Imagine being a rubber band
As mentioned above, children and adolescents have a rather short attention span, which means that you will probably have to end the conversation before getting the results you had in mind. Then you should imagine yourself as a rubber band – keep engaging your child in conversations on the topic whenever you and your child are up for it. Discuss the topics that your child is concerned about and create a space were your child feels he or she can talk about anything.
How can I talk to my child about?
Many parents find it difficult keeping a conversation going when they e.g. enquire their child about their day. Your child will unlikely spontaneously strike up a conversation opener and maybe you are having trouble figuring out which questions will trigger conversations of a more serious nature:
- Your own family and others
- Things that makes you happy
- Things you are missing from your life
- Things that makes you feel uncertain
- Things your child should know
- How to tell when someone is doing fine
- How to tell when someone is feeling bad
- Things that might make one feel embarrassed
- Why you are feeling sad
- That every person has different moods and feelings
- Discuss different types of moods and feelings, and reasons why these moods and feelings may pay a visit
- What you dream of for the future
- What makes you angry