Too often caregivers say they want to have conversations with young people, but aren’t sure where to start. Here are five tips to help you get started.
Be open and honest
Above all else, be interested in your child’s life. Celebrate the good times, be solution-focused during the bad. Children who know they can come to you on a wide variety of topics are more likely to speak up when something in their life feels wrong or unsafe.
As information about the upcoming school year is being discussed, children may have questions related to COVID-19 and how it will impact their future. You don’t need to have all of the answers, but you should respond calmly and honestly about what you know. For instance, children may worry about virus testing or how much a test will hurt. You can describe the procedure in an age-appropriate way, and explain the protective equipment a doctor or nurse may wear while performing the test.
Not all conversations, even those about things that make us uncomfortable, have to be big and intense. Make discussions about feelings a regular part of your day, providing examples of your own ups and downs. If something has made you angry or sad – perhaps a television show being canceled – ask your child what she would do to feel better. While you don’t want to pull your child into a dramatic situation, it is good for children to know their caregivers have good and bad days and experience a wide range of emotions.
Have frequent reminder conversations about safety. Ask your child how they would contact you during an emergency, and who else they could contact if they can’t reach you. Find opportunities to speak to children about their friends and what it means to be a supportive friend. And, don’t forget to discuss the safety risks associated with technology. Ask if they’ve explored safety features for their apps and games, and offer to walk through this with them.
Trust your instincts
It’s natural for children to travel through various stages of development, and some will be more difficult than others. But if you are seeing inconsistent behaviors or moods that just don’t feel right, it’s OK to ask for help.
For instance, older children who are becoming more and more withdrawn (from their friends or their family), engage in consistent rule-breaking or defiance, suddenly have a completely new friend group, or obtain unexplained new clothing or other items may be clues to larger issues. During playtime, younger children may communicate information that appears out of their character.
A child may speak about things that worry or anger you. Try to remain calm. First instincts to immediate remove risk – for instance, a phone, computer, certain friends or freedoms – may be interpreted by the child as punishment for sharing. These prohibitions may be necessary, but by staying calm there can be additional discussion surrounding decisions.
Use a support system
You don’t have to go it alone. Reach out to other adults in your child’s life – perhaps a teacher or coach – and express your concerns. Perhaps the other adult will have information that can help. And, as always, we’re here to help.