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Five tips to keep kids talking during stressful times

By Trisha Sheehan

Concerned mother having conversation with stressed out girlStress is a part of everyone's life. It can be as overwhelming for young people as it can be for adults. We as parents and caring adults may not be able to prevent youth from feeling stress, frustration, sadness or anger, but we can help them cope by keeping them talking during stressful times. By listening to young people, we can better understand their concerns and be available to support them.

Here are five tips for how to talk with youth.

Be available

The American Psychological Association encourages us to recognize when a child is wanting to or willing to talk. Find out what their interests or passions are and show interest in them. Be willing to start conversations. Don’t always start conversations with a question, instead share what you’ve been thinking about or what you’ve learned.

Stop and listen

Kids Health advises to not just listen but to actively listen. Stop what you are doing and focus on what they are saying. Let them express their opinion or point of view without interrupting. Listen for understanding and repeat back what you believe you’ve heard.

Think before you respond

Check your reaction – do you sound angry, upset, or frustrated? If so, they might not listen. The American Psychological Association advises that It’s okay to share your opinion but don’t downplay theirs in the process. Focus on their feelings and not your own. Ask what kind of help the child wants from you in dealing with the stressor.

Be patient

Sometimes a child can take forever to get out what they want to say. The Children Now & Kaiser Family Foundation tells us to just let them talk at their pace and share their story or concerns. Don’t try to finish their sentences. Show patience and let them know you want to hear what they have to say.

Just be there

Even if a child doesn’t feel like talking, they may not want to be alone. Kids Health encourages us to do something together. Find a way to take a walk, watch a movie, go for a bike ride or play a game. Your presence really does matter.

We are all dealing with challenging times right now, whether it’s stress from the unknown, stress from a poor economy affecting our livelihoods, a pandemic, or farming challenges. Paying attention to our youth and finding ways to help them talk about what’s concerning them is one way to help them learn to handle stress in a positive way.

-- Trisha Sheehan, Extension educator

Read more about working with youth during the COVID-19 period.

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  1. Thank you for the tips. Sometime i really get worried about my kid as she is getting older and don't like to share as she used to but still we need to know what our kids has that expression of stress

  2. Trisha, you make some great points here. I found using a scale system for children helps them communicate their stress level without using a lot of words. Using open-ended questions will help with the stop and listen approach you mentioned in your article. Thanks for posting, now is the time for adults to show up in the lives of our kids.

  3. The rise of mental health matters in the world today is alarming. All parents and caregivers should listen to kids openly and calmly, providing kids a free, open, and nonjudgmental space to allow them to talk freely of difficult and sensitive matters. These include bullying including internet safety from cyberbullying, abuse of prescribed drugs, unique home dynamics of abuse, divorce, blended families, etc. An informative article, relevant and spot-on today, as when it was first published.


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