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Let Those Feelings Out

By Linda Sorkin, LMFT and Teen Life Coach
Let's face it. Kids have a lot on their minds: Sometimes, too much. While keeping their feelings bottled up is anything but healthy, getting them to open up is often difficult. They're uneasy sharing their emotions and often assume their mind-reading parents know what's going on, anyway.

Parents, on the other hand, often just shrug off being rebuffed by a moody child, telling themselves the child will get over it. But "it" can turn out to be something as serious as bullying or depression and not dealing with it can help set the stage for problems as serious as self-injury, or substance abuse, or worse. Like so many aspects of parenting, learning to listen is key to beginning a dialogue to help your child share his or her feelings. Here are some tips:

Getting Kids to Share Feelings

  • Accessible times. Identify the times your child is more likely to engage in conversation and take advantage of those times to connect. Set aside other tasks and give them your full attention.
  • Reflective listening. Help the flow of conversation through reflective listening. Summarize and restate to your child your understanding of how they're feeling and the situation that led to those feelings.
  • Ask clarifying questions. Use body language and comments that say you're listening. And approach these conversations with the belief that you are a sounding board for your child to use in resolving their problems.
  • Sharing as a family. Something as simple as a family sharing the best and worst part of each other's days around the dinner table can go a long way in helping children open up. At first, don't expect anything particularly profound, but listen closely for verbal clues and follow up on anything you feel may go deeper than a child lets on.
  • Share one thing. A similar method is to "share one thing." Someone picks a topic for each family member to share, as in, "Share something that made you smile today" or made them worry, disappointed, etc.

Parents need to remember their job is to listen, not to judge, lecture, or talk at their kids. You don't build rapport by interrupting them or deflating dreams they express. You build rapport and get them to open up by listening, really listening.