when its ok not to be ok



Why its so very important to get your child talking about their feelings, writes Esther Marshall.

No parent likes to see their child struggle but with the last year a half’s challenges it has brought to us and our children we are starting to see a huge increase in children suffering. In the last 3 years the likelihood of a child having a mental health problem has increased by 50%.

1 in 6 children between the ages of 5-16 are likely to have a mental health problem.

This means there is, now more than ever a need to get children comfortable with understanding their feelings and talking about them so that this becomes the norm.

In an independent study Sophie Says carried out of over 1000 parents we found that over 80% of parents are worried about their child’s mental health but only a third of those parents have any resources, books, toolkits in the home which talk about mental health.

How can we expect our children to talk about how they are feeling or understand how to have a good mental health if we are too scared to talk about it ourselves?

Below I talk through some ways to help get children to open up about their feelings and talk about them with the aim that this becomes second nature to our children and just something that they do in their every day life.

Ask open questions

These are questions which require a full answer rather than a closed question which only requires a yes or no answer.

For instance, instead of asking “did you have a good day” where the child will either say yes or no ask “what was the best part of your day” or “what was the worst part of your day”.

This changes the conversation from a very short yes or no conversation to one where they have to answer.

In that answer, they will be able to describe a small part of their day which will mean you can then use what they have said as a hook to ask more open questions and find out more about their day and how they are really feeling.

Distractions away

When talking to children about their feelings and how they feel ensure all other distractions are away.

Ensure all phones are away or not in direct eye sight.

Make sure all radio or TV is switched off and that there is nothing in the background that could be distracting and stop a child from talking about their feelings.

Talk openly about your own feelings

Let them know that you also feel sad and angry sometimes and that that is ok. Explain to them that’s it’s okay not to be okay. It’s good for children to see you as human rather than this perfect always happy person who they don’t feel they can be their true selves around.

If they can see you being vulnerable and admitting that everything isn’t always perfect and that perfect is unattainable and that that is ok it will really help a child feel better about themselves and therefore more inclined to talk about how they are feeling.

Create a safe space

This is incredibly important. If a child doesn’t feel safe, they won’t talk at all.

This isn’t saying they don’t feel safe at home.

It’s about finding a safe space within the home where they can go to in order to get that feeling of comfort and start to talk.

They can take blankets, pillows or anything like a teddy that makes them feel calm or safe to this corner.

A great activity to do is to create a safe corner or space within the home or at school where they can go to in order to feel safe to talk.

If you do this together with the child, they are more likely to go to the safe corner as they feel its theirs as they built it and it will encourage them to speak openly.

Eye contact

Eye contact is so important for parents/ carers/ teachers. It lets a child know that you are fully there with them and that they are the priority.

This is especially true when you are trying to talk to child about how they are feeling.

During the conversation about feelings, it is essential that you maintain eye contact with the child, however don’t expect them to keep eye contact back.

Lots of children will find constant eye contact hard to maintain.

We can’t expect children to maintain this but as a parent/carer/ teacher you want to ensure that they always know you are there and for that split second when they look up at you and want to know you are there, that you are and that you are concentrating fully on them.

As with anything in life this is a process.

Getting children to talk about their feelings will not happen overnight. It’s a learned behaviour.

Psychologists say that in order for something to become a habit it needs to be done repeatedly for 21 days straight.

Now for children and talking about feelings it won’t happen every day.

However, if each time they get upset or you can see they feel anxious you guide them through the 5 tips above this will eventually become a learned behaviour and build resilience in our children and ultimately positively benefit the next generation.

See the Sophie Says educational hub for free resources and toolkits to help children talk about their feelings – www.sophiesaysofficial. com/education-hub.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Esther Marshall is a Diversity and Inclusion expert, mental health activist and the author of the The Sophie Says children’s books series – which make life’s most important lessons fun to learn.

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