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Communicating with Kids Series – As a Parent, How Do I Address Loss, Stress and Other Difficult Emotions?

April 16th, 2019     By Boys Town Contributor

Child Development, Communicating with Children, Connecting with Kids, Connecting with Teens, Parent-Child Relationships, Social Skills

Communicating with Kids is a seven-part series on how parents can better communicate with children of all ages. Each month we pose a specific question about communication to a variety of our Boys Town experts; from the Boys Town Center for Behavioral HealthSM to the Boys Town Common Sense Parenting® program and many who serve the Boys Town National Hotline®.

Part 7

What tips can I offer to my kids to address things like loss, stress, difficult emotions, etc.?

K-3rd Grade

Some of the best medicine for loss or stress can be found in good old fashion care and kindness. Children, like all of us, will experience ups and downs. What is most helpful during difficult times is to have a trusted adult who can teach children how to handle and cope with their emotions and make good choices. It is important to never underestimate the power of a little praise, and a few minutes of genuine concern and kindness can help a child weather almost any emotional storm.

Bridget Barnes, Director, Boys Town's Common Sense Parenting

4th-8th Grade

Here are some suggestions:

  • Let kids know it’s okay to have big feelings and strong emotions. Then, help kids identify what emotions they are feeling because they aren’t very good at that. The more they understand their emotions and emotional reactivity to things, the more they come to know themselves. And that’s where confidence comes from.
  • Educate kids on when it might be helpful for them to reach out to someone by learning signs in their own behavior and emotional reactions that might indicate it would be beneficial to talk. Then, make sure they know there are resources available.
  • Modeling how to handle big emotions is another great way to teach kids how to cope with them. You might tell a struggling child, “Hey, sometimes I feel really sad or frustrated or anxious. And here’s how I know that I feel that way, and here’s what I do when I feel that way.”
  • If you think a child is struggling, make sure they’re getting a lot of positive attention and praise from you. Seek out additional opportunities for one-on-one time or more subtle one-on-one time.

Be mindful of over-interpreting experiences. Sometimes we attach adult meaning to adolescent behavior and make things bigger than they may actually be. We have to be careful not to add more meaning to a child’s experience than may be true.

Julie Almquist, Manager, Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic

9th-12th Grade (Teens)

Kids today seem less prepared to deal with tough issues that inevitably pop up in the course of life. And talking about them isn’t the easiest or most natural thing for teens to do – especially in today’s electronic world where texting, chatting, emailing or some other electronic means of communicating is much more popular and prevalent.

Talking face to face, voice to voice and heart to heart with a trusted adult (parent, grandparent, family friend, school staff, etc.) is still by far one of the best ways to address difficult issues and emotions. Kids might be more willing to talk to adults about these things if they know how to approach and start the conversation.

A good way to help kids learn how to do this is to choose a time when distractions are minimal. Talk to them about the words to use to ask adults for help – e.g., “When you were my age, did you ever have to deal with… (loss, stress, difficult emotions/situations, etc.)? How did you handle it?” Teaching kids how to ask the right questions can help them become more comfortable and willing to begin asking for help when they are struggling.

Pat Thomas, Boys Town National Hotline Crisis Counselor


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