It hurts when you can’t get your child to open up to you. If that’s your situation right now, here are some ways to encourage your child to talk about their feelings:
Ask fun and engaging questions. If you are the type of parent that asks questions like “How was school today?” I bet you got a short response such as “Fine” or “Alright”. Some children won’t elaborate unless you ask the right questions.
Open-ended questions like “Did you do anything today that you are proud of?”, “You’re in a cheerful mood, what did I miss?”, “Why is rugby your favorite sport and not tennis? These types of questions are more likely to draw out the lengthened response that you are after.
Create a connection. Sometimes, your child fails to tell you anything because there is a disconnect between the two of you. To overcome this, create an atmosphere that allows your child to feel safe and supported.
That way, they will come to you with their little problems and big problems, knowing full well that they have your support and understanding, no matter what. When you can create an open and honest connection with your child, they will be more open to telling you things, even without you having to prompt.
Give your child space. There are times when children just want to be left alone. When you sense that, give your child the privacy and respect to try and process their emotions by themselves.
Two children can have the same experience, yet have two very different reactions. For example; Bella and Remy both get invited to a birthday party from a classmate, Bella’s thoughts/beliefs are “Yes! Yummy party food”, “I love party games”, “It’s a good chance to play with my friends”. These thoughts lead to Bella feeling happy and excited.
On the other hand, Remy’s thoughts/beliefs are “I bet I will be left out of the party games”, “No one will play with me” “I will be embarrassed in front of my classmates”. These thoughts lead to Remy feeling worried and anxious.
Children’s beliefs are the expectations of what they think is most likely to occur in that situation. Think of beliefs like wearing a pair of glasses.
We all have a different pair and therefore see the world differently, due to our past experiences. At such a young age, belief systems in children develop mainly through social modelling and the messages that they receive from their surrounding environment.
For most children, this will be in the home from parents, siblings and grandparents. And at school by their peers and teachers.
Keeping a thought diary can help your child to combat worries and anxiety. Each child has thoughts in their mind which can be undetectable by our parents. By encouraging your child to write down their thoughts and feelings, you will have talking points so that you can help challenge their unhelpful thinking habits. As such, whenever your child has an unpleasant feeling you should encourage them to write it down under the following headings, in four columns: I have created a thought diary template for your child. You can download and print it here.
Situation. Writing down the exact moment in which they feel worried or anxious. Children who are afraid and anxious tend to avoid certain situations. Writing them down will enable you to pinpoint precisely what these scenarios are and how best to move forward. For example; I got picked last for the sports team.
Thoughts. Help your child to put their negative thoughts into writing. It will enable them to process it better and allow you to gain insight into their reasoning. Encourage your child to write down any negative thoughts associated with each situation. This will allow you to know how best to help them challenge their negative thinking habits. For example; No one likes me.
Feelings. Assist your child to write down how the specific situation and thought made them feel. Example; Sad.
Helpful thought. Someone had to go last and today it was me!
Constant negative thoughts can have a horrible impact on all aspects of a child’s life if not handled properly. Children as young as five are even known to have automatic negative beliefs and thoughts.
You will need to talk with your child about what’s on their mind (this is where the thought diary comes in handy) to help them change their thinking.
Help your child to recognize their negative thoughts. This can be done by completing the thought diary exercise that I went through above.
In the fourth column titled helpful thought, you can guide your child to transform their negative thought into a more positive and helpful one. The helpful thought could be; Someone had to be picked last, and today it was me, no sweat!
The helpful thought should be brief and specific to your child’s problem. Keep in mind the helpful thought also needs to be realistic and helpful for your child.
Attempt to teach your child to be mindful and live in the moment. Knowing how to live in the moment can help your child break the harmful thinking habit. Negative thoughts mostly occur because you are either thinking of the past (which cannot be undone or changed) or worried about the future (which hasn’t happened yet). As adults, we suffer from this also! I talk more about teaching mindfulness here.
All children experience negative thoughts from time to time, and it’s okay for children to feel sad sometimes too. If your child is unable to share their troubles, the negativity can eat away at them, which leads to their unhappiness.
If you notice that your child is not themselves, they’re giving up on things quickly, crying for no reason, withdrawn and looking unhappy or troubled, loss of appetite or lacking motivation perhaps it’s time to take the time to sit with your child uninterrupted and ask what’s on their mind.
When negative thoughts are managed properly, it helps make a difference in your child’s life and allows them to become happier, confident, and hopeful. If you would like to learn more about how you can assist your child to manage their feelings, you can download my free eBook here or enroll in my one on one coaching program here.