How can I help my child share their worries with me?

If your child is not talking to you about their worries, you may feel concerned. Children or teenagers may struggle to share what’s going on in their life because they:

  • Fear getting told off.
  • Feel shame or embarrassment.
  • Think that the person they tell won’t care or want to listen to them.
  • Worry that you’ll dismiss their concerns as not important.

Help your child feel safe

Try to create a safe space where your child feels comfortable opening up to you. Children want to know you’ll love them no matter what. Find ways to help them understand that this is the case.

Let them know they can share or talk to you about anything, and that they’re not alone.

Prioritise one-to-one time

Spend regular one-to-one time with your child. Do things you enjoy together, such as cooking, crafts or going for a walk. This helps build your relationship. They may also feel more able to talk about their feelings in a relaxed setting, when they are ready.

Some children may want to talk before bed. Create time to listen and help them offload, if they need to. You can then do something relaxing, like reading together, before they go to sleep.

Try sideways listening

Children might feel more comfortable sharing worries when they’re next to you instead of facing you. This is called sideways listening. Car journeys, washing up and walking are good opportunities for this.

Normalise sharing

Create a family culture where you spend time together, have fun and share thoughts and feelings with each other. Try eating meals together, playing games, watching films and sharing stories about your day.

You could talk about what went well, what was challenging and how you solved problems. It’s important that you share your own feelings, to show it’s OK to discuss worries and ask for support.

Offer alternatives to talking

Some children may prefer communicating in a less direct way. Older children and teenagers might find it easier when using text, voice recording or video call. For younger children, toys or aids can help. These include:

  • A worry box: Cut a slit in an old shoe box and ask your child to write down any worries and put them in the box. If they want to talk, they can show this with a ‘T’. If they’d like you to reply to the note, they can write ‘R’. If they only want you to be aware of a worry, they write it down and leave it in the box.
  • Pebbles: Give your child a pebble or a shell and encourage them to place it somewhere you’ll see. It indicates they want to talk to you without having to open the conversation.
  • Worry monster: It might be helpful to use the idea of a ‘worry monster’ with your child. The monster eats the worries, and you take them out. You can draw a monster or make one out of what you have around the house.  Find examples of toy worry monsters.
  • Books: Try Huge Bag of Worries (age four to eight) or Ruby’s Worry (age three to seven).

Consider your own reactions

Think about how you react to the little things they share. It shows them how you might respond to the big things. If your child tells you something you find difficult, try not to look surprised or shocked. This may make them reluctant to share more.

Let them know they’ve done the right thing in telling you. Reassure them you’ll approach any problems together.

Be patient

Don’t push your child to share. Let them do it when they’re ready. Remind them often that you’re there for them.

Be prepared for your child sharing something at a time that feels inconvenient for you. Keep in mind they may have been building themselves up to share. If possible, make time to listen.

Get support

Think about other people your child could talk to. It’s important that your child feels they have someone to share their concerns with, even if that’s not you. This could include:

  • Other family members or close friends of the family.
  • Trusted adults at school.
  • Young carer support services.
  • A GP or school nurse.
  • Online or phone support that they can access themselves, such as Childline and Kooth.

Read more on how to talk to your child about difficult subjects. Or learn how to manage challenging behaviour in teenagers.

For advice on your specific issue, speak to one of our parenting coaches.

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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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