Do you wonder how to get kids to talk about their feelings, know it’s a good idea but are totally unsure where to start?
The pressures on our children
In these unprecedented times, our children have been through a great deal that we could, in no way, have prepared them for. Childline has recorded a 40% increase in calls during lockdown form under 11’s. Our kids are really struggling. Schools have been training their staff around ABSA – anxiety-based school avoidance – fully aware kids are going to find going back to school really tricky.
Being schooled at home, missing their friends, fears around health, not seeing family, social distancing, wearing masks…they really have had so much to contend with. And this hasn’t ended for them although rules are relaxed, many things are still very different. Families themselves may be grieving losses or recovering in health, finances may well have been impacted and uncertainly looms. The pressure of families all being cooped up together for so long can not be underestimated either.
School looms and with it anxieties about how it’s going to work, nerves about seeing friends again and being separated from their family bubble. Even concerns that they might catch Coronavirus and bring it home. Our poor kid’s minds are whizzing and fretting and they really do need to be able to offload.
How can conversation help?
We need to talk to children about their mental health with the same ease as we talk about their physical health.
It does not need to become a taboo subject that is only addressed if there is a crisis. Checking in with our kids about how they are feeling, how they are coping is vital. Giving them space to talk and explore their feelings ensures they don’t bottle it up inside until they become a big ball of stress and anxiety. By talking through worries, we can offer a listening ear, reassurances that these feelings are normal and will pass.
We can also offer practical reassurances and clear guidelines about how schools are working to safety measures and how handwashing/ social distancing help.
Conversation can be key to unlocking the pressures on our kids and helping them stay emotionally healthy. Someone who doesn’t open up is far harder to reassure, comfort and support and we cannot help the find the answers if we don’t know their questions.
How to get kids to talk about their feelings
Compass Fostering spoke to Community Psychologist Louise Nichol about this issue and she’s advised that talking to kids about this kind of thing can be easier when you’re doing an activity together. The reasoning behind this is:
1) It’s natural rather than forced 1:1 time
2) Activities done together are bonding so your child will feel more bonded and ‘warmed up’ towards you and as your rapport builds throughout the activity, they will find it easier to open up
3) Questioning a child head-on about their feelings can feel very intense. When I was a social worker, we would often drive the kids we were looking after a slightly longer route as they found it much easier talking when they didn’t have to face you! Plus, they were stuck by your side so often started chatting out of sheer boredom. I’m not suggesting you bore your kids into talking to you though.
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What activities work well when exploring how to get kids to talk about their feelings?
Lots of different activities work as great spaces and places for discussing feelings. If you ask a child about their emotional wellbeing when baking or gardening or cycling along by your side the chances of them talking and opening up are better, they will be relaxed into their activity and it will feel natural.
Asking a child how they feel whilst trampolining, playing a PlayStation or complicated board game with them, or having a kitchen disco isn’t going to work so well. You won’t easily be heard and they will be caught up completely in what they are doing. Plus, it is hard to be introspective when you are excited.
Quiet calming activities work best especially those with repetition.
Encouraging kids to talk about their feelings – how I do this in my home
Art and Baking
I love to make bread with my daughter L who is 13. It is such a great time for us to talk as we measure and stir and knead, the soothing aroma and the manual work ease the tension from our bodies and we are relaxed together.
We both also love art and colouring complex pictures. I have found especially when we sit colouring together focused on our art and very chilled out that it is easy to talk about deeper and more personal things and she will often up then about how she feels. She’s been able to open up about friendship issues and self-esteem issues as we bake or draw together, and these are a great way for us to chat about mental health in an unpressurised way. I’m not too busy or distracted and she is comfortable with me and relaxed.
Chess and Gardening
My son F is 16 and not so easy to pin down these days as he is often out and about with his friends. But F and I love to play chess together. Our games sometimes take forever! and there are lots of long pauses. It’s the perfect time to check in with him about how he is feeling and if there is anything he would like to mull over with me. We talk about exams and worries or concerns for the future and it is a great chance for him to express himself, name his feelings and for me to hear him and offer support and reassurance.
F also loves gardening and we have spent time this summer growing veg together and guerilla gardening, making seed balls and then going out and throwing them in places where wildflowers are needed! Being out in the open air keeping our hands muddy and creating something together is really bonding and so much fun and the perfect time to talk.
Naming feelings is healthy and helpful
Conversations are key to good mental health, I want my kids to know they never have to bottle their emotions up and that by exploring, and in particular, naming their feelings those feelings become more manageable and less dominant.
Naming emotions correctly can also help give the child a language to communicate how they were feeling, rather than acting out. that behaviours or bottling them up and becoming anxious.
Mindfulness expert Dan Siegel says of feelings —’Name it to tame it.’ And in fact, science supports the fact that discussing feelings helps your brain function more clearly, so it is well worth encouraging.
Brain scan research shows that this labelling of emotion appears to decrease activity in the brain’s emotional centers, including the amygdala. This dampening of the emotional brain allows its frontal lobe (reasoning and thinking center) to have greater sway over solving the problem du jour (read more about this at Mindful.org)
So, I would say go for it…set up a calm activity for you and your child, something you know they love and check in with them about how they are feeing today. How to get kids to talk about their feelings – it is simple, why not give it a go today.
Could you foster?
Compass Fostering is a fostering agency that provides amazing care for some of the UK’s most vulnerable children. Do take a look at their guidance if you are interested in ‘becoming a foster parent’ I was a respite foster carer for a few years in my 20’s and it is definitely one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.
I do hope you have found this post on how to get kids to talk about their feelings to be useful – you might also like my post on how to help kids calm down