Is this a familiar scene at your house right now?
YOU: “Hey kiddo, you’ve been in your room all day. You ok? How are you doing?”
YOU: “You sure?”
YOU: “I know you’re bored. You want to come help me make some cookies?”
KID: (Doesn’t respond, keeps playing a video game,)
YOU: “I know it stinks to be cooped up right now. Maybe you want to shoot hoops in the driveway? Some exercise would do you good.”
KID: “Mom, I’m fine. Just leave me alone!”
It’s hard when you know your child is hurting, confused, sad, scared—but they just won’t open up and talk to you about it.
You’re not sure how to help. You feel helpless and rudderless.
This is a challenge so many parents are facing right now because of this COVID-19 crisis.
It’s just one more thing on top of ALL the things that may be concerning you:
You’re having to work from home for the first time in your life. Or you’ve lost your job and are anxious about the future. You’re worried about your loved ones getting sick. You’re worried about the economy.
Your youngster has thoughts and feelings about what’s happening, too.
He’s having to do his schoolwork at home, he misses his friends, he may be bored, listless, angry, sad, or worried too—just like you are.
How can you help him if he won’t talk to you?
If you relate, keep reading, because I’m going to offer some important do’s and don’ts when it comes to getting your kid to open up about their feelings…whether it’s because of this coronavirus crisis, or really any time.
A lot of parents have heard about the importance of validating their child’s feelings, so they try to do that.
But don’t get the results they’re hoping for because of one simple mistake.
The mistake is assuming you know what they’re feeling, then offering a “but” statement.
Some examples of this mistake:
“I see that you’re frustrated because you want to hang out with your friends today, BUT we have to keep our distance from people in order to stay safe right now.”
“I know you are mad at me because I won’t play with you, BUT if I feed the baby first, I’ll be able to give you more of my time.”
“I know you’re disappointed BUT you have so much to be thankful for right now, so you should be glad.”
Here’s the thing. No one, including myself, likes being told what they’re feeling.
Your child doesn’t like being told what they’re feeling, thinking, or experiencing, and then being told NOT to feel that way. They don’t necessarily want you telling them how to fix the problem, either.
Rather, what you want to do is to show them that you’re trying to understand what they’re feeling rather than presuming to know.
Why? It’s more respectful. It’s less invasive. It invites them to correct you and be more open about what they’re experiencing.
Here are some examples of this better approach:
“It seems that you’re frustrated because you can’t hang out with your friends today. Is that true?”
“It seems like you’ve been waiting all day to play with me and it doesn’t seem fair that you have to wait even longer. Right?”
“It looks to me that you’re disappointed or upset with me. Are you?”
In these examples, you try to guess what they may be feeling and then inquire if that’s indeed true. You gently invite them to correct you.
Then—here’s the other part of this—after they open up to you, do NOT offer advice, criticize, or talk them out of it.
Just acknowledge and validate what they’re feeling.
“Yes, I know, it’s hard to be cooped up like this.”
“It is disappointing to not be able to play basketball with your friends on a nice day like today.”
“I get that it’s difficult to get motivated to do schoolwork.”
The advantage of this approach is that your child is more likely to share their thoughts and feelings with you in the future.
The more you validate them without trying to “fix” it for them, the more open and honest they’ll be with you the next time and the next.
And really, isn’t that what you want?
Creating a strong, loving bond with your child where they feel safe and loved is by far the most important thing you can do as a parent during this COVID crisis.
I know this is a confusing and difficult time because we don’t know what’s going to happen because of this pandemic. Parenting isn’t easy even under perfect circumstances. But these circumstances are making it doubly hard.
And that’s okay because as I’ve mentioned in this article, you don’t need to be perfect or beat yourself up when you’re already dealing with so much at this time.
I want to help and show you, with practical and compassionate advice, how to be the calm, supportive and loving Captain of the Ship to your kids.
But of course, I can’t possibly work with ALL parents one-on-one.
That’s why I’ve partnered with Flourish, so I can help extend my help and guidance to as many parents as possible.
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We can be stronger as a result of all this, and we can become closer with our kids.
Please take care and stay well.