It is normal to feel uncomfortable talking to your child or teen about topics like sex, drugs, self-harm, academic difficulties, sexual orientation, secrets, or other more controversial issues. As hard as they are, these conversations can be a great bonding moment for you and your child. It is a chance for you to guide them and to talk about values and troubles. And, it can help to open the door of trust and lead to future important conversations.
The hardest part about having these conversations can be knowing when/how to start them. There is no script, unfortunately, and sometimes they do lead to an argument. And, that is ok. You and your child might not be on the same page. But, once they get started they tend to move at their own pace, and generally, you both will start to feel calmer and at ease. What are some things to consider as you start these conversations?
1.) Think About It – Before these topics come up it can be helpful for you to think about them. What would you say? How would you approach it? What are your thoughts and feelings about these topics?
2.) Clear Out Your Own Funk — Another reason why it is important to think about these things ahead of time is it gives you time to work through your own issues beforehand. Talk it out with a friend or a trusted mental health professional before you approach your child. This will allow you to have the clearest head possible.
3.) Stay Calm — It’s hard, I know. Your child/teen might be telling you something that makes you feel like you are going to lose it but getting mad and yelling at them is only going to harm the situation. If you need to, take a break. Go to the bathroom. Decompress. Take some deep breathes and then re-approach the situation. Losing your cool is going to make it harder for your child to open up to you.
4.) Start Positive — You want your child to feel comfortable opening up to you. So, start positive. Say things like “I am so happy we can have this talk,” “I am so glad to have this time with you,” “I am always here for you,” etc.
5.) Listen — This seems obvious but it can be difficult. Really listen. I don’t mean think about what you are going to say next when your child is talking. No. I mean look them in the eye, take in what they are saying, really, truly, whole body listen. They will be able to tell if you aren’t truly listening and then they will think you are disinterested or distracted and won’t want to keep talking.
6.) Avoid Being Critical — As parents, it can be so easy to pass our judgments and criticisms on to our children but how does it make our children feel? Typically it makes them more guarded. They tense up and get defensive. Who wants to share something deeply personal only to get criticized? Keep that stuff to yourself and share it with a friend or trusted mental health professional later, if you need to.
7.) Thank Your Child — Make sure you tell your child that you are grateful they came to you. Thank them for opening up to you. Thank them for sharing these personal things with you.
After you talk to your child, what do you do next? Take some time to calm yourself down. Go for a walk. Call a friend. Let off steam. Don’t wait and let it build up inside of you and brew over time. It is best to get it off your chest right away.
If your child has expressed a need with you, then figure out how you might meet that need. Maybe that involves meeting with a doctor or mental health professional.
If you are struggling with how to have hard conversations, you might want to consider speaking to a mental health professional. They can help you figure out a plan and get to the bottom of any underlying issues before you have these conversations.
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