Rhys is a really sensitive child.
You might not think it sometimes, when you see him running around, doing karate chops and playing pokemon.
But he really is sensitive. He takes things to heart and we’re starting to realise that he worries a lot.
There have been a few occasions recently where he’s been worried or sad about something. And it’s taken quite a long time to get him to talk to us about what’s on his mind.
Part of the problem is the fact that he’s only 5. I don’t think he always fully understands what he’s feeling. And he often doesn’t have the ability to express those feelings to us.
Once we’ve worked out what the issue is though, we’re still faced with a problem. How do we help him feel better?
I’m finding that this little bit of psychology can help.
What we do is simply try to mirror his words and feelings.
Sometimes we can ‘fix’ the issue and quite easily make things better. For example, he was worried about sleeping over at his grandparents’ house the other day. And we worked out that he just wanted some of his things with him to help him feel more relaxed. So he went off with his book and the duvet off his bed, nice and happy. Problem solved.
Other times though we can’t, and shouldn’t try to, just ‘fix’ things.
Sometimes people just need to be heard. Children especially need to know that their feelings are valid and that we understand how they’re feeling.
So next time your child is sad or worried about something, try reflecting their thoughts and feelings back to them. It’s all part of active listening, and here’s how you can go about it:
- Rephrase what they’re telling you. So don’t just echo back exactly what they say to you, rephrase it slightly. If they tell you they’re sad because their friend wouldn’t play with them at school, you could say back, “so you’re upset because they wanted to play with someone else” or “so you’re feeling sad because you were lonely and left out at playtime”.
- Let them talk. Try not to say too much yourself, but encourage them to keep going with simple acknowledgements like “oh really?”, “ok”, or “I understand”. If you need to ask them questions to get more information from them then try asking open-ended questions, rather than questions that will just give you a yes or no answer. Or try leading questions like “could you tell me more about it?” or “then what happened?”
- Give their feelings a name. Sometimes young children will have these big feelings, but they might not know how to explain them. You can start conversations with them by naming the possible feelings. So say something like “you look like you’re feeling sad”, or “it seems like you might be feeling anxious about… “
- Try not to just placate them or dismiss their feelings. It’s so tempting to say “oh don’t worry about that”. Or even “don’t be silly, there’s nothing to worry about”, but these things won’t help at all! Things that might seem silly or inconsequential to us can be huge to children. So they need to be listened to and acknowledged, not just dismissed.
It’s really not easy getting children to open up and talk about how they’re feeling.
And, honestly, I do worry about how to keep communication going in the teenage years. We’ve got a while before we get to that stage luckily, and I’m really trying to lay the ground work now.
Making sure I work out the best way to talk to both of my children so that they know I’m really listening to them. I think this advice will really help with that, and I really hope it helps some other parents out there.
Please do let me know if you do this with your children, and if you think it helps.