how to talk to a child who is struggling

The 5 Best Things to Say to a Kid Who’s Struggling

I am the youngest of four. One night, when I was around seven years old, we had family friends over. I’d always get really excited about having guests over and wanted to be a part of the fun with my siblings and the other kids. Unfortunately, I ended up being the annoying little brother. I struggled to fit in with the older kids and couldn’t understand why they got upset with me. Before I knew it, everyone complained to the parents. When my dad came and got me, I thought I was in trouble.

Instead, he took time away from the other adults and sat with me outside. We didn’t even talk about what happened. He looked at the night sky and asked me what I thought about the stars. The rejection I felt and my struggles all faded away. Our kids are going to experience seasons of struggle, many far worse than mine. However, just like my dad did for me, there are things we can say to help them persevere. Do you know how to talk to a child who is struggling? Here are the 5 best things to say.

1. Nothing. Just listen.

More than anything, listen. Don’t give advice unless your kids ask for it. It’s hard enough to work through something hard, but it’s even worse when someone is telling you how you should handle it. They will feel judged and so they’ll shut down. But when you sit and listen, it communicates that your kids’ experiences are significant—and that your kids have valuable things to say. Don’t be in a hurry to move on or say something that makes everything all right.

2. “I love you.”

It may seem cliche or overstated, but these three words are necessary. Don’t underestimate the power of these words, especially when someone is struggling. Our kids need to know that someone is consistently in their corner.

3. “I’m here.”

Show your kids that no matter what they go through, they can always lean on your shoulder.

What my dad did the night he took me outside was so simple. He was there. My feelings of rejection and hurt faded away with his presence. Be a constant, consistent, and reliable person for them. Show your kids that no matter what they go through, they can always lean on your shoulder.

4. “That’s really hard.”

Your kids need to know you understand and empathize with the difficulty of their situation. It lets them know they aren’t alone and validates their feelings of fear, sadness, frustration. It doesn’t mean you condone a defeatist attitude, but it gives them a clear picture of their reality. Then you can help them navigate it.

5. “This won’t last forever.”

When a person is in the middle of a struggle, it’s tough to imagine life ever getting better. This is especially true for a child. But you also don’t want your kids to pack it in or lose hope. After all, struggle gives us an opportunity to overcome and grow stronger. Let them know that what they are going through is temporary. Remind them of other struggles they’ve had and how those struggles are a thing of the past. Or share your own struggles and how you eventually got past them.

Sound off: Do you know how to talk to a child who is struggling?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What is your biggest struggle right now?”