Know when to comfort
It's never easy to watch a loved one go through hardships, much less one's own kid. It may be tempting to want to jump right into neutralizing their emotions, but trying to get reasonable responses out of a kid while they're feeling overwhelmed is rarely ever productive. Offer comfort and support in the moment and be patient. You will be able to identify when it's the right time to bring it up again.
Tune into the good
Hearing about the things that make your kid happy is just as important as hearing about the things that are challenging. The more a kid becomes used to opening up, the easier it will be to have productive conversations and the more they learn about themselves. Talking about and recognizing their accomplishments will teach them how their hard work and efforts can make a difference.
Before you talk with your kid, spend a few minutes thinking through possible reactions they might have. This will help ensure that you're prepared in the moment and that your reactions to responses you may find challenging remain controlled. Reacting with anger, judgement or disapproval may damage the trust you want to build with them severely, so stay calm, listen and process the information they share before you respond.
Ask open-ended questions
Rather than saying something like: "tell me how you're feeling about x," start by asking a question like "what did you and your friends talk about today?" or "what's new at school?" It's often best to focus on asking questions that may clue you into or lead them to the answers you want to reach rather than making statements or asking straight up.
Be intentional about listening versus "fixing"
It's tempting to want to jump to fixing the challenge your kid might be facing. Remember that, in the moment, your kid probably just wants to be heard. Try to focus on responding with things like "that sounds really difficult," or "you're having the right reaction! That would upset anyone." If you think your child might want help, you can ask kindly and non-judgmentally: "do you want my help or do you just need to vent?" or “what you would like to do or what might be a way to try to fix this situation?”
Try not to take things personally
Your kid may say something hurtful while you're talking to them, since confusing emotions often come out as anger. If that happens, try not to take it personally, and instead focus on understanding what's actually going on with them. It's also important to establish parameters around expressing emotion without being disrespectful, which will be relevant and helpful to them not just at home, but everywhere, so explain that there are consequences to the way that you act around and how you treat people and that it's essential for all of us to be careful and empathetic about how we talk to others.