Having a child we love open up to us is a delicate privilege.
After all, this precious little person has trusted us to safeguard his or her feelings, and believes we have the wisdom to help see a problem through. It’s paramount we do a good job.
Kids can come to us for a variety of reasons, from friendship woes to help dealing with a traumatic event they either experienced or heard about on the news or in the community.
What we do to help our kids depends on several factors, including his or her age age, the gravity of the situation, and how equipped we are to handle it. But there are some key messages we can send to a vulnerable child right away, which can help them feel supported, safe and respected.
Here are five important sentences you can try using the next time you become your child’s confidante.
1. “I’m listening.”
In a world filled with distractions of all kinds, hearing the words, “I’m listening” is meaningful. It signals that the person you’re talking to recognizes you need their full attention, and is prepared to give it.
But if you’re going to say it, mean it. Shut off the television, put your phone away, close the laptop, and just listen. Otherwise, a meaningful phrase becomes less meaningful in the future.
Building a strong foundation of communication with our children is crucial. If we don’t listen to our kids the first few times they feel they’re in crisis, they’re less likely to come to us later on, when the crises can be even bigger.
2. “I’m here for you.”
Right now, you might be thinking, Well, of course I’m here for my child! She knows that already. I don’t need to tell her all the time.
She likely does know you’re there for her, deep down. But in the moment, she might really need to hear it. Those words are immeasurably comforting. It reminds our children that we are their safe place to fall.
The world might feel like it’s collapsing under her feet some days, but she has you. Let her know it as much as she needs to hear it.
3. “How can I help?”
This is a good question to ask children of all ages. But it’s especially important with older children who can reason and are working hard on problem-solving skills.
Sometimes, a child only wants to vent to his parents; it’s therapeutic because it helps him get his emotions out. The kid down the road made fun of him when he was walking home and it upset him enough to talk to you about it.
Sometimes, however, he might really need help. Maybe the kid down the road has been calling him names for a while now, or physically harming him, and it’s time to do something about it.
Asking “how can I help?” shows a willingness on the parent’s part to take action. It also helps kids think about a problem in terms of possible solutions, which can be very empowering.
4. “Things are going to be okay.”
Because they are going to be okay, and sometimes we all need to hear it.
As parents, we have a powerful ability to comfort and calm our children. Hearing from us that things are going to work out can be what tips the emotional scales from panic to peace. Our words matter.
Kids are incredibly resilient, even when they don’t recognize they are. The ability they have to move forward and adapt is unmatched by other age groups. Remind them just how strong they are, and you will be amazed at what they can overcome.
5. “I love you no matter what.”
Unconditional love between a parent and child is virtually unbreakable. We can be pulled to what we think is our limit, only to realize there actually is no limit.
Use this powerful force, and remind your child of it. Let her know there is nothing she can say or do that would make you stop loving her. Tell her that no matter what else the world may be throwing her way, she always has you.
With just a few simple words, you can help set a supportive, positive and empowering tone to a difficult conversation.
This, along with plenty of hugs, can be the best medicine.
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