Five tips for talking to children about feelings

Published on
19 September 2019

Talking about feelings and thoughts we might have doesn’t always come naturally

It takes time and practice to instill a sense of honesty and openness in all relationships - and this is no different for parents and their children.

We spoke to a practitioner in one of our mental health services in London to get tips on how to talk to your child about their feelings.

Work out your own boundaries

Young people can sense when we as adults feel uncomfortable, therefore modelling openness is key. Identify what feelings are you comfortable discussing with others. Once you’ve done this, you can lead by example; Let your child see - even if it’s difficult - that it’s okay to be vulnerable.

Think about how your child expresses themselves

Some children will find it difficult to open up about their feelings. If they engage with games, there are some fantastic conversation starter games that you could try. Some of our favourite subtly look at worries and feelings - ‘Blob cards’, ‘School of Life 100 Questions for Families’ and ‘StoryCubes’. Some of our practitioners also like the Disney film Inside Out for younger children.

Reflect together

If you’re sat having dinner together, begin by talking about how your own day/week has been with your own worries, ups and downs. Involve them by asking questions like “this made me sad - if you were me, what would you do to be happier?” Another suggestion would be to watch TV programmes together and reflect on them.  Ask them questions like, “If someone did that to you, how would you respond?” or “How do you think that character felt when this happened?” This can lead to in-depth and telling conversations with your children and how they feel.

Pick your time and give them space

Noticing an opportunity is important, so make sure you have time and privacy to talk to your child properly.  When they’re telling you something, try not to assume, accuse or dismiss them - no matter how small the issue is. Children need to know that you’re going to respond with openness and love in order to feel safe.

Practice listening to one another

Practice active listening with your children by following this little exercise. Remember to own and identify your feelings, it’s important to allow others to feel different and let them express this. There are two roles – the talker and the listener.

  • The talker spends 60 seconds speaking about a topic they’re interested in – this could be a hobby or something you had done that day. Make sure to include feelings and thoughts within the talk.

  • After 60 seconds, the listener will repeat back the highlights of the talk, making sure to include the thoughts and feelings of what was said.
  • Swap roles and start again. This exercise can help both you and your child to become better at listening and picking up on key feelings and points.

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