Ask an expert: How can I encourage my child to talk to me about his feelings?

Ask an expert: How can I encourage my child to talk to me about his feelings?

My 13-year-old son seems upset about something but won’t talk about it. How can I encourage him to be brave enough to open up about his feelings?

Speaking ahead of Children’s Mental Health Week (February 3-9) (childrensmentalhealthweek.org.uk), Sue Rogers, a mental and emotional health expert at  Action for Children  (actionforchildren.org.uk), who leads  The Blues Programme,  an early help schools programme for teenage depression, says: “If there has been a noticeable change to your son’s moods and behaviour, acknowledge you’ve noticed it. The sooner he understands you’re aware his mood and behaviour are different, the sooner you can begin to support him.

“Explain that it’s a brave thing to talk about how he’s feeling. Think about what he responds to and how to best approach an initial conversation to effectively explore what’s really going on.

“Look for patterns. Think about what elements of your son’s life have changed – does he complain about certain classes at school? Is he coping with school pressure or issues with his peer group? Is he spending a lot of time on social media?

“He may find it easier to open up to you in a more relaxed setting like on a walk together or trip out in the car. Keep the conversation about everyday things to begin with and offer some reassurances that you’re here to support him, whatever’s going on. Try not to be too direct with your questioning so he feels more comfortable to talk about what’s really going on.

“Let him know that sometimes problems can feel impossible to share. Suggest that saying them out loud in a room on his own might help to build up the confidence to talk about them.

“He may feel braver and more able to write down how he’s feeling on paper, focusing on key words such as worried, unhappy, sad and anxious. This might help him explore how and why he’s feeling a certain way, especially if he’s not willing to talk about it.

“Schedule some fun activities through the week like playing a game, going for a walk or meal together. This is when he’s likely to feel safe and share his concerns with you.

“Don’t be afraid to seek help. It’s helpful to know whether others are seeing a physical or emotional change in your son too. Turn to close family members, friends and his teachers to get a clearer picture on what’s happening in his life and how it’s impacting his mental health. For more advice, visit Build Sound Minds (buildsoundminds.org.uk).”

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