When to talk to your kids and how? —And when to seek professional help.
1) Actively “listen” before giving your advice.
Encourage your child to engage in a conversation. Ask them about their day. Listen to their concerns and worries. It will give you a better understanding of their emotional state and demonstrate to them that their feelings and concerns are important to you. As a parent, you might jump to problem solving; however, kids don’t really necessarily need solutions right away. Sometimes they just want somebody to listen to their concerns and validate how they feel.
Now you might be thinking, “I do ask my child, and still he/she is not willing to share.” Sometimes kids might find it difficult to share their concerns. If that’s the case, then try sharing your past experience when you felt sad, anxious, or angry so they don’t feel alone. Make sure you are giving your child your full attention when listening to what they have to say. Avoid multitasking when you're having conversations about feelings and concerns. When you multitask, your child will get the impression that you don’t care about what he/she has to say, and he/she is more likely to keep things to him/her self in the future.
2) Teach your kids the “language of feelings”
As a parent, one of the most important things you can teach your child is to recognize what they are feeling and how to express their feelings in words. Learning to express feelings with words reduces the chances of your child shutting down or acting out. Use pictures that express emotions, or ask them to draw or write about their feelings. One reason children get stuck and don’t want to share their feelings, even if you ask them to, is because they find it difficult to express it. Another reason is that many children shut down when they are upset because they think all feelings except for happy ones are “negative” and they feel ashamed for experiencing other emotions. When you teach your child the language of feeling and invite them to explore and share them, it makes difficult feelings normal and healthy. As a result, your child will develop strong emotional and social skills to cope in life. It will also help them to make friends and improve their self-esteem.
3) Be aware of your child’s overall actions and behaviour.
Children often communicate their concerns through their behaviour rather than words. If your child is acting out and often getting into trouble at school or home or when playing with friends, it is a sign that something needs to be addressed or that they need emotional support to cope. This is a reason why the language of feelings is so important. Don’t be afraid to ask for help even if it is not extremely serious. Children need guidance about feelings and relationships. As a parent/caregiver, ask for professional help to learn more about emotions and relationships, which will not only help your child but yourself as well.
4) The way kids “think” is very important.
Notice your child’s language and comments about him or herself and others. If your child is being self-critical or is displaying negative thoughts such as “I am stupid”, don't ignore it. Address such negative remarks. When kids engage in negative self-talk, it leads to lower self esteem and can contribute to low mood and anxiety. It can also leave them more vulnerable to being bullied as well. Bullying is dangerous to self-esteem especially if children already believe they are not good enough. Look out for your child’s inner bully, that inner negative voice.
5) “Educate” yourself about your child’s mental health.
Talk to other parents; connect with a professional; read a book on anxiety, depression or whatever your child is struggling with. Please do not use Dr. Google because sometimes the information is not reliable. I will post a list of credible books that may be helpful to read.