How to talk to your child about difficult topics

Discussing serious subjects with your child won’t always feel easy. You may not know where to begin, or your child might not seem keen on conversation. But there are things you can do to help communication and understanding.

Understand how your child is growing

  • Your child may be forming new opinions and ideas – and this is normal. As children grow, their understanding of the world and their opinions also change.
  • Remember that your child is likely to develop beliefs that are different to your own. These may also be different from your family beliefs. This is also part of growing up.
  • Your child will also become more influenced by their peers and media. This can include music, art, social media and the news. Many children follow “influencers” on social media. These are people who have built a reputation by posting on a certain topic, like beauty or fitness.

Explore the topic you're worried about

  • If your child is becoming interested in something that worries you, do your own research. Take some time to find out more about about it before talking. Keep an open mind. Be careful not to jump to conclusions about what it means to them.
  • When you decide to talk to your child or teenager, try asking why this thing feels important to them. What it is about the topic that interests and engages them? 
  • Be open to their views and opinions, even if they differ from yours. Be aware of what they may be seeing online. Show an interest of their point of view.

Find ways to have open conversations

  • Think of an activity you enjoy doing with your child. This can be a good way to start a conversation in a more relaxed way. Try to avoid a confrontational tone. 
  • Begin by asking general questions. “How are you feeling?”, “What’s been the best bit of your day so far? And the worst?”
  • Don’t only talk about what worries you. Have a fun or interesting conversation with them – this is a great ice breaker and a way to encourage your child to talk to you more.
  • Find a good moment to ask them if they want to talk to you about anything. Do they have anything on their mind?
  • Reassure them. Let them know that they can tell you anything and you will be there for them and love them. If they’re worried about something, you can tackle it together.

Try sideways listening

Have you ever noticed your child chats more when you’re driving somewhere or walking the dog? This is when sideways listening happens. 
Sometimes it’s easier to talk when you’re busy doing something else. It can feel less scary and more relaxed because you’re not looking straight at each other. It can help teenagers open up about difficult things, as they don’t need to see your reaction.
You can try sideways listening any time you’re alongside your child. This could be while on a drive or out for a walk, cooking or baking, doing crafts, or maybe playing a game.

Speak to your child with respect

During early childhood, there are clear communication roles for parents and their children. As a parent, you will speak as an adult to your child, and your child sees you as the adult. But when children become teenagers, they want to be seen as adults too. This is where problems can arise.
Try to talk adult to adult, rather than still treating them as a child. Think of them as you would any other adult you share the house with. Aim for calm discussions where you listen to their feelings and share your own.
Sometimes there will need to be a little bit of compromise on both sides. But your child will appreciate the opportunity to explain their thoughts.
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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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