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Communicating with Kids Series I Think My Child is Struggling but They Wont Talk

February 5th, 2019     By Boys Town Contributor

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

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 5

Do you have any tips for parents with concerns about kids who may be struggling with talking about what’s going on?

K-3rd Grade

When children are struggling to talk about their feelings, it is important not to press them to share before they feel they can trust you. Start by planting seeds to build a strong relationship. Use active listening, be comfortable with silence and do activities that allow children to express their feelings in other ways (e.g., artistic expression, role-play, journaling and mediation exercises).

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

4th-8th Grade

Some tips include:

  • Adults are often too quick to jump in with answers, to try to solve problems and to give advice to kids. But we get farther faster if we can be patient, listen, validate the child’s feelings and let them do the talking. A good approach to building relationships is to let silence provide an opportunity or a platform for kids to express themselves. So, instead of jumping in to try to solve problems, give them an opportunity to get comfortable sharing so they trust you and your opinion.
  • Another good way to build rapport is to discover and talk about common interests like music, sports, books or other subjects or activities you both might be interested in.
  • It’s important to be genuine and authentic. Sometimes we want to put on our adult hat when really what kids want and need is somebody to be authentic with them. They are pretty good at spotting somebody who’s not being genuine and that can really hinder your relationship.
  • On a more subtle level, communicate availability. Either with language or just being physically present. This helps to send a message that you are available.
  • It is important to acknowledge when you might not be the right person for a kid. Sometimes we try to hang in there because we want to make it work and we know we can help, but it just isn’t working. It’s okay to say, “You know what? This isn't a good fit. Let me find somebody that I know who will be.”

Julie Almquist, Manager, Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic

9th-12th Grade (Teens)

  1. Set expectations regarding communication. Teach kids to take responsibility to communicate circumstances affecting mood and behavior.
  2. Encourage a variety of means to communicate – talk in person, text, or email.
  3. Check with other family members, teachers, coaches, etc. to give all a heads up and enlist a team approach.
  4. Build an action plan with the team and discuss it with your teen.
  5. Even if it seems that the situation has been resolved, continue to check back with the teen at scheduled intervals and randomly as well.
  6. Praise approximations. Empathize.

Linda McGuire, Boys Town National Hotline Supervisor



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