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How To Get Kids To Open Up

Many parents report feeling helpless and frustrated when they can see that there is something clearly bothering their children but when they ask about it, they are met with a scarce or dishonest response. Why is it that many children find it so challenging opening up to their parents and what can parents do to improve the quality of these dialogues?

Creating a Safe Container

Society does a great job of conditioning us, no matter what our age, into fearing allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. I’ve heard toddlers calling each other “sissies” when they fall over and “cry babies” if they sob in pain, demonstrating the pervasiveness of such maladaptive beliefs. We have been made to fear that people will take advantage of our weaknesses as soon as they suss them out, and use them to try and get ahead of us. Some people associate a deep shame with admitting to experiencing painful emotions, and this very often ties into perfectionism. Regardless of these stories created around emotion, we know that it is part of the human experience, and we also know that if we suppress our emotions we are far more likely to suffer from poor mental health. It is crucial that parents provide their kids with a space for sharing their emotions that feels truly unconditionally accepting and non-judgemental. They must believe that they can say whatever they need to, and will not receive any negative consequences: only pure love. Some guidelines are comfort, consistency, and privacy. In order to build trust with your child, you can make “sharing time” a regular thing, by taking them somewhere cosy and secluded, sharing a tasty beverage, and telling them you’d love to hear all about their week.

Teach Children How To Verbalize Feelings

A lot of children, by the time they get to adulthood, simply don’t know how to verbalize their emotions. It’s really important to be able to recognize and understand emotions in order to be able to avoid projecting them onto others, and to release them in healthy ways. The first step to processing an emotion is by paying attention to it, as opposed to ignoring it and allowing it to build up. Again, you can model the healthy behaviour and break the ice by going first and expressing some of your own emotions to them. Psychologists suggest that encouraging your kids to tell you what the emotion feels like in their body can be helpful. Teach them that uncomfortable emotions will pass, and they don’t need to be afraid of them because they are a normal part of life.

Ask the Right Questions

If your child seems shy or tongue-tied, be sure to ask them questions which require more than just one word answers. If your child is in distress, it will likely be because a need of theirs was not met. How we get certain needs met is connected to our specific beliefs about ourselves and the world. Ask questions to try and identify which needs were not being met, and help your child unpack their underlying beliefs. Ask open-ended questions that won’t require yes/no answers, ask because you are ready to listen to the answer and when they reply give your child that 100% devout attention.

Master the Art of Holding Space Instead of Trying to Fix

In any heartfelt conversation with another person, the aim should be to develop a deeper understanding of how they see the world – not to try and change them. When someone comes to us with a problem, many of us really struggle to not try and fix it. A lot of the time, people just need to feel supported and understood. Focus on asking questions to help your child understand their own beliefs and needs, and try to get them to come up with their own solutions if necessary (by asking the right questions). Never assume that you know what’s the right thing for your child to do, just reassure them that no matter what happens they are strong enough to get through anything, and they will always have you standing right behind them to lean on if they need.

We hope that this article will provide you with some resources to further enrich your connection with your kids!