Children need to feel heard. And sometimes it might be hard to hear what your child has to say. Other times it might be hard to get your child to talk about their thoughts and feelings at all. Your child might think you won’t understand or be afraid to share feelings for fear of being made fun of.
Being open and honest can make it easy for your child to talk to you. Listen to what your child is saying and talk about your own thoughts and feelings. This will help you both build a stronger relationship.
It can be hard to talk with your child, but don’t give up. Active listening is a way for parents to have better talks with their children. It means paying attention to what someone says, thinking about what they say, and using words that let them know you understand what they are saying.
Here are some tips that might help.
Listen and watch for clues
When you talk to your child, listen to what they say and pay attention to what they may not be telling you. Make eye contact and nod your head when they talk.
For example, if your child says, “I hate my friends and never want to see them again,” they may feel hurt, lonely, left out, or rejected. In this case, what they say can be a clue to how they’re feeling, even if they don’t say exactly how they feel.
Don’t assume you know how they feel. Encourage your child to tell you how they feel by saying “you must be feeling sad to say that.” Your child might disagree and say they were just angry, but this will get your child talking about their feelings.
Tell them what you understand in your own words
If you don’t understand what your child is telling you, say it back to them in your own words. This will help you learn more about why they may be upset or angry. This also lets your child know that you’re listening.
For example, if your child says, “I don’t want to go to soccer practice anymore because I always feel stupid,” you could say, “So, you don’t like soccer practice anymore because of the way the other kids treat you? Tell me about why you don’t like soccer anymore.”
Your child will feel more comfortable talking with you if you share your feelings and concerns without judging what your child says. In the soccer example, it might be easy to respond by saying, “Don’t be silly, this will blow over soon.” Instead, ask your child to think about how they really feel. Ask them about specific feelings. “Are you worried, confused, or sad?”
When they are ready to open up to you, use words that let your child know that you hear them and are there to listen. You could say, “I’m sorry that things are not going well with your friends. I’m confused about what went wrong. Tell me more about that.” When you talk this way with your child, they are more likely to open up and tell you what’s going on.
Give your child time to open up
You may not understand what is bothering your child right away. Give them time to tell you more. Use phrases like “tell me more about that” to help your child keep talking.
Ask open-ended questions like “tell me about your day” or “what did you do today?” This will help your child to start talking about their day. These questions also ask for more than a one-word answer.
Spend time with your child and do something you both enjoy. This can be a great chance to share thoughts and ideas. Talk about what your child likes. Remember that talking is a two-way process.
It can be hard to talk openly with your child, especially if they are acting out. Your first reaction might be to get frustrated or angry. Remember many parents feel this way. You are not alone.
Share your feelings
Use words that feel comfortable to you.
- Share how you feel, such as “I’m worried that…”
- Let your child know how their behaviour makes you feel, such as “because I want you to be happy”.
It takes time and practice
Active listening and getting your child to open up can take a lot of practice. Don’t give up. It might take a long time for a child to open up to you if they are shy or quiet. You know the difference between prying, being curious, and trying to support your child. When you can talk openly with your child, you can:
- find out about problems while they are small
- better understand what’s really going on
- get to know your child better
Remember that your child needs you to listen. You’re very important to them.
For More Information
Alberta Health Services offers many addiction and mental health services to help you, your child, and your family, including:
- information and prevention programs
- group and family counseling
- outpatient and residential treatment
- the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Program
For more information or to find services near you, call Health Link at 811