Start a Conversation
How to Start a conversation
Look for a natural opening
Everyday conversations with your child can easily turn into conversations about their emotional wellbeing. Sometimes, you don't even have to bring up emotional wellbeing directly.
For example, if your child shares something that’s happening with a friend or classmate, you can ask them how that makes them feel, or whether they’ve experienced something similar.
If your child turns the question around and asks if you’ve ever felt that way, use this opportunity to be open and honest about your own experiences.
Ease into the conversation
Jumping into a conversation about feelings can be intimidating - especially for a child. When it comes to initiating conversations about feelings, never rush into it. If your child is hesitant to share, try starting with the rose and thorns conversation model:
Use the roses and thorns conversation model
This is a great way to initiate a broader conversation about feelings. To start this, ask your child to identify:
- One thing during their day that they thought was great (roses).
- One thing they felt was difficult (thorns).
If you feel like there’s hesitation, start with your own roses and thorns
React during the conversation
Listen and acknowledge their emotions
Hearing about the things that make your child happy is just as important as hearing about the things that are challenging.
Always acknowledge the way your child feels to help normalize the conversation. This can lead to a more successful conversation in the future. Some examples include: “That sounds fun” or “That must be tough”.
The more a child becomes used to opening up, the easier it will be to have productive conversations.
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?"
Focus on asking questions that may lead you to the answers you need rather than risking making them feel uncomfortable or intimidated by asking directly.
Avoid taking things personally and reacting with anger, judgement, or disapproval
Your child may say something hurtful while you're talking to them. Remember, sometimes, confusing emotions can come out as anger.
If your child says something hurtful:
- Breathe. Calm down and ground yourself.
- Try not to take it personally.
- Focus on understanding what's actually going on with them.
- Remember your goal - to help your child.
Understand the conversation
It's okay if they don't want to talk right now
If you start a conversation when your child doesn't want to talk, it's okay to let the conversation go. Your child might not be ready to talk just yet.
Find a better time to bring the subject back up in the future.
Children and teens often prefer to dip in and out of conversations about their feelings. If your child changes the subject or shows that they might be uncomfortable, change the subject.
When you can, find time to bring up the subject again.
Give yourself a few minutes to feel and understand your own emotions
It's okay if you feel worried or angry. If needed, get help for yourself. Remember, it’s okay not to know what to do, feel a bit lost, and need help.
Be intentional about listening versus fixing
It's tempting to fix the challenges your child might be facing. But sometimes, it’s not about fixing things. Sometimes, it’s just about being heard.
Focus on responding with things like "that sounds really difficult," or "you have the right reaction! That would upset anyone." This tells them that you’re listening and acknowledging their emotions.
If you think your child might want help, ask kindly and without judgment: "do you want my help or do you just need to vent?" or “what would you like to do, or what might be a way to try to fix this situation?”
Know when to comfort
It's never easy to watch your child go through hardships. It can be tempting to understand the situation fully right then and there, but trying to get reasonable responses out of a child while they're feeling overwhelmed is rarely ever productive.
Offer comfort and support at the moment and be patient. You’ll know when it's the right time to bring up the issue again.