Talking openly with children and young people can be challenging at times.
We know it’s especially hard if you’re not sure where or how to start. If things feel wrong or unsafe to them, they need support from the adults around them. It’s vital that children know that they can speak to you about any worries that they may have.
These tips come from our experts and can help you to get talking.
Be welcoming and open
The most important thing is to be interested in your child’s life. Celebrate when things are going well. Respond with patience and sensitivity when they’re worried or anxious. Children who know that there is nothing too big and nothing too small to talk about are much more likely to speak up when things feel wrong or unsafe.
Discussions around worries and feelings don’t always have to be big or intense “talks”. Try to talk about feelings as a regular part of your relationship. There are simple ways to help you and your child talk about feelings on a day to day basis.
Speak to them about their safety strategies when they’re out of the house - including how they can contact you in an emergency and who else they could contact. It’s important to talk to them about how they can support their friends and what support they should expect from their friends, too.
It’s worth talking to them about their apps and games on their devices, and exploring the safety features together. Read our guide to online life for more information.
Be open about your concerns
You might have specific concerns. For older children and teens, these could be:
- changes in behaviour and mood (especially if they’re becoming more withdrawn)
- late nights out
- new friends who you haven’t met or heard about before
- any unexplained belongings that they might not have bought themselves
- their online activity
- unexplained injuries
- STIs and pregnancy
For younger children, you may notice comments or elements of “playtime” that are sexual in nature and wonder where they learned this from.
Try to discuss these without judgement and reassure them that you’re always there to talk to. When you’re talking about concerns like these, make sure you’ve got time to talk about it. Consider the environment and both your and your child’s potential stress levels when planning this.
Take a breath
If a child tells you about something that worries or angers you, try to remain calm. Your first instinct might be to remove the risk, which might look like taking away phones, stopping them from seeing certain friends or grounding them. While this comes from a desire to keep them safe, a child might see this as a punishment for speaking openly. This can result in anger and mistrust, and prevent the child from voicing concerns to you in the future.
Reach out to others
If you’re worried, know that you don’t have to be alone in this. Talk to other adults that your child has a good relationship with - perhaps a teacher, a youth worker or a parent of a close friend - and express your concerns to see if there’s anything that they might be able to do to help address your worries.
If a child does talk about an abusive, harmful or dangerous experience, let them talk at their own pace. Try to not interrupt or panic. Help is available. Police and social care have specialist officers who can help children and families to talk and can help to make children safe. There are also organisations who can help.
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Child sexual abuse
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