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How to talk to your children about their feelings and spotting the early signs

Why you might want to talk to your children about their feelings

There can be a number of reasons why you want to talk to your children about their emotions. These may include the following:

  • You’ve noticed your child is acting differently, and you are concerned about them.
  • Something has recently happened that might have affected your child, and you want to check in to see how they are doing.
  • You want to help your child to feel more comfortable talking about their feelings in general.

It can be so tricky to bring up difficult topics, and talking about emotions with your children can sometimes feel more than a little daunting for parents and carers. You may worry about saying the wrong thing, making your child feel uncomfortable and even worry about making them feel worse. But the fact you want to explore emotions with your child is enough even if sometimes it doesn't go as planned. 

Here we have some handy tips on how you could begin talking to your children about their feelings. 

Just because you want tot talk doesn't mean they are ready to. Look out for the things they say and their body too for indicators on weather they really want to talk about their feelings. 

It can be tough to talk about how you feel and when we want to talk about things as parents, children don't always want to or feel ready. Asking what a child needs from you can help them feel more heard and respected. 

Children might also not know what they need so suggesting a few options can be a good starting point for example "do you need some space right now?".

Talking about feelings can be really sensitive, so making sure the space is private, comfortable  and feels safe for your child can be key for a positive outcome.   

Talking about feelings, or any difficult subject can be quite sensitive. Choosing a time when you are both calm and relaxed can be more useful than choosing a time when there are any heightened  emotions already at play.

Sometimes it can be hard for children to identify their feelings. Naming what you observe can help them to do this. For example, when talking to a young child you might say "you seem really angry today. I can see you clenching your hands and don't have a happy face. I wonder if anything has made you angry or upset".

Bring more open and honest about how you yourself feel (in a age appropriate way) can normalise the ides of talking about emotions. Children who see adults have big feelings, doubts, get scared or anxious, get frustrated with others etc might feel more comfortable opening up themselves.

It can be pretty daunting (on both sides) to sit down and talk about somethings as important as feelings but decreasing some of the intensity can sometimes reduce the pressure and make things less stressful.

We might feel a pressure to have all the answers and say the right things but sometimes we juts need to think a little differently. Helping our children express their feeling's through play our using art materials can be just as important and useful, especially for much younger children who's natural language is always play. 

This sounds pretty straight forward but sometimes when we care we may jump into problem solving mode a little too hastily, and while it might come from a good place its not always helpful. 

Early warning signs

How you can support your child/signpost them to support (anxiety, depression and other key presenting issues).

 

Anxiety often presents in a way that causes both psychological and physical symptoms. For example, the person may experience:

Psychological Symptoms:

  • Feeling uneasy, tense or worried.
  • Feeling unable to relax
  • Feeling out of control
  • feeling a sense of dread
  • The need for reassurance from others
  • Rumination over the thoughts or previous experiences
  • Worry about the future

Physical symptoms

  • Problems sleeping
  • feeling restless
  • headaches or tensing body
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Grinding teeth
  • Butterflies or feeling sick
  • Panic attacks

What are the signs my child might be feeling anxiety? 

  • Talking quickly or switching from different points. 
  • Describing feeling a sense of dread or worry
  • Apologising for taking up time or for wasting time
  • Seeking reassurance
  • Description of any physical or psychological symptoms shown above.
  •  Getting stuck on a particular thought or concern.

Presentations of anxiety can be on a spectrum, with some people presenting with ‘every day’ anxiety, whilst others may be experiencing more of a severe anxiety disorder. It’s important not to be dismissive of either experience, and to recognise the significance of what the person is experiencing to them.

Experiences of depression and low mood can also be experienced at different levels of severity. Sometimes a child or young person will experience more mild symptoms that may be seen as ‘every day’ low mood and others may experience clinical depression. Clinical depression is diagnosed when an individual experiences five or more of the following symptoms, over a two week period; with someone having a low mood or loss of pleasure or interest.

  • Depressed (feeling low) most of the day almost everyday.
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities of the day nearly everyday.
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting. Decreased appetite.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia 
  • Psychomotor agitation (foot tapping, pacing)
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly everyday.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate or indecisiveness.
  • recurrent thoughts of death, suicide ideation or suicide attempt/plan.

These symptoms will cause significant clinical distress or impairment to functioning.

There can be some unhelpful narratives around clinical depression, for example, the idea that the individual needs to ‘snap out of it or ‘pull themselves together’,’ or the idea that we all experience clinical depression, since we can all have ‘bad days’. These can diminish the experiences of the individual and take away from the distress that they are experiencing. These misconceptions can also stop individuals from seeking help, as they may feel like they don’t need it or ‘should’ be okay.

 

How might clinical depression present online?

  • The individual may express feeling low in mood
  • The individual may express thoughts of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Expression of feeling suicidal, having attempted to end own life, having a plan to end life
  • Slow typing or feeling like the answers are taking a lot of effort from the person
  • Expressions of feeling drained or exhausted or like things are too much
  • Expressions of feeling guilty for things, such as being a burden or being alive
  • Negative self-talk
  • Expressions of not getting pleasure from things or being interested in trying things
  • Reports of change in eating habits or appetites.

Thanks to Kooth for the information for this page. 

Last updated: 10/12/2021

Useful links

Parents Guide PDF

Parents Guide