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10 Things To Do When Your Child Starts Talking About a Problem

  1. Put your phone down and listen to them. Start tuning in.
  2. Relinquish your need to immediately solve it. Just relax.
  3. Say, “Tell me more,” to keep them talking. Say, “Tell me more” again and again. The idea is to get all that energy out of them like you are letting the air out of a hot balloon.
  4. Try saying a simple word like, “Scary” or “Stressful!” then just wait. Therapists call this CONTACT. You want to try to contact the emotion. If you contact the emotion, they have a moment where they feel seen. This creates CONFIDENCE. Also, there may be more they need to say and if you jump to solutions, you always risk giving them the unconscious message that they should have already known how to fix it.
  5. Don’t start talking about yourself for awhile (eventually, maybe, but not yet).
  6. Ask them things like, “What is that like for you?” You want to keep them talking under the assumption that when kids talk, they come to the answer on their own. When they come to it on their own, the will fix it on their own. This gives them, here’s that word again, CONFIDENCE. You don’t want to rob them of the opportunity of solving a problem on their own.
  7. After they’ve gotten it all out, you could troubleshoot for solutions like, “Maybe emailing your teacher to ask for clarification will help?” “I wonder if we sat at Starbucks together to work on the missing assignments would help?” “I wonder if making flashcards of the study guide could help?” When you word it as a question, you are still open to their feedback. See number 6 about not robbing them of the opportunity to solve it on their own.
  8. Don’t say, “Why didn’t you…. “ or “Well, if you would have….” This could be taken as shaming them.
  9. Do something unrelated with them for a little while, to get their mind off the problem. See if they come up with a solution. Like you could try shooting baskets, eating ice cream or taking a walk. You could take a drive so there’s not so much eye contact. In therapy, they call this “letting the paint dry”. When you have talked about an intense thing, you want to do something less intense for awhile. See what happens after you’ve let the problem breathe.
  10. Finally, share a time when you had a similar problem, emphasize how confusing it was for you, and how you eventually solved it. For example, when I was a Freshman in high school, my mom dropped me at the bus stop and drove off. I realized immediately that the bus had already been there. PANIC! We didn’t have phones back then so I couldn’t text her. I just watched her drive away and I felt the intensity of the anxiety. As I stood wondering what to do, another random bus came by. He stopped and said, “Do you need help?” I said, “Yes, I missed my bus and I need to go to the high school.” He said, “Hop on and I’ll take you.” This is a story about how things work out sometimes on their own but you have to just patiently wait. Listening to kids is like this. You never know when another bus is about to drive up and help you (and them) solve their problem.

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Free Clear Mind Therapy provides in-person therapy in Fishers & Indianapolis and online therapy across Indiana. Specializing in anxiety therapy for teens, adults, and kids.

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