Have you ever talked to a child and wanted to help them through something they were struggling with, but found it seemingly impossible because they just wouldn’t open up or have difficulty expressing feelings?
As a parent and a pastor, I’ve counseled many kids over the years, and one of the great struggles is getting some kids to talk, especially when they don’t want to. While you can’t force a child to share their heart or their feelings, there are some practical practices that sometimes help to get them to open up, whether with your own kids or with others’. So whether a child is hurting, dealing with relational issues, has made a huge mistake, or is trying to deal with things completely out of their control, here are a few strategies to help them open up and share their feelings.
Show genuine concern.
This is huge because a child will rarely open up to someone until there is an understood level of trust and security. Listen to whatever it is they are willing to tell you and show them you are truly interested in their situation or problem. The more you are willing to show patience and grace, the more likely they will be to open up to you. However, trying to make them talk or guilt them into talking will cause them to be less likely to open up and more likely to simply shut down. Children want you to understand what they are feeling, but they will easily get frustrated if you do, and will seldom share their deepest feelings until they are convinced that you truly care. Here’s a few examples of how this might sound in conversation:
- I’m really sorry about what you’re going through right now.
- I feel for you in this situation. Tell me how this makes you feel that this has happened to you.
- What you’re telling me makes complete sense. Tell me more.
Ask lots and lots of questions.
Questions are the window to see into a person’s heart, and especially with a child. And it’s very important that you don’t just ask yes or no questions, but instead, questions that require a thoughtful answer. Because oftentimes, kids know what they are thinking and feeling, but they just don’t know how to put it into words. This is where our thought-provoking questions can help unlock the emotions going on inside to help them find a way to express them. Here are some examples:
- What bothers you most about this situation?
- Can you help me understand more of what you’re feeling right now?
- Who do you think is responsible? Is there anything you could or should have done differently?
Once you get an answer from your questions, create more questions off of their answers that allow you to dig deeper into their feelings. While it would be nice if we could just passively wait for kids to share their feelings with us, we must instead proactively give them reasons to. It’s kind of like playing in a ping-pong match, where you begin to feed off of each other as you hit the ball of conversation back and forth. Here are some examples of dig-deeper questions:
- You told me that this whole thing makes you feel angry…What do you feel like doing when you get mad? What do you think is the right thing to do when you feel that way?
- It seems like you want to be able to control what’s going on right now…Even though you can’t change everything, what is one thing you could do to help make this situation better? Who do you think you need to talk to about this?
- I completely understand why you feel so hurt right now…What would help you to feel better? Who else in this situation do you think is hurting right now? Is there anything you could do to help them?
When it comes to helping kids articulate their feelings, the old statement is very true, that “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
How do you get your kids to open up?