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What do I do if my child doesn't want to talk about their worries?

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

In this FAQ series, we asked clinical psychologist Catherine Gallagher “what do I do if my child doesn't want to talk about their worries?”

There can be a number of reasons why children don't want to talk about their worries. It can be because they actually don't understand what they are, or know what is going on in their minds. Perhaps they don't have the words to express their concerns. It can be that their peers or parents are worrying and persistently asking them about it, so much that they just don't want to talk about it. It may well be that not talking about their worries actually gets them more attention, encouraging others to pay more attention to them and their concerns. Or in some instances, all of these could be true.

What this doesn't mean is that, as parents, you can't do anything about it. You certainly can, because you've not only got the words they are using, but you've also got their behavior to base your assessment and decisions on. You know your child the best out of anyone. So, if your child is showing anxious behavior, or if they're avoiding talking about things, as their parent, you can absolutely step in and support them. Support them to be brave, support them to get into environments where your brain might be telling them it's dangerous, support them to share their feelings with you.

A really good technique to use is “drop and run”. It isn’t about trying to get them into a dialogue about their worries, but to make suggestions based on your observations. The things that you have noticed and you are wondering whether it's an issue. Children don't have to answer, but they have heard what you have had to say, and so that can be just as powerful.

The other thing you can do is try and support your kids to know the difference between a problem and a worry. Problems are great to solve - you can talk about problems that they might be experiencing, being curious and offering suggestions, allowing them to be partners in solving their challenges. However, when it comes to worries, we actually don't really want them to talk about them too much. Ultimately, worries are not based in reality, but a construction within our worried brain. So, by dwelling on these for too long, we are indulging them. Try to steer the conversation in a direction of proactivity and control, making the changes to have an impact on what the root cause is, not their worries themselves.

As parents, we can be supportive. We can be open and let them know that we're always here to talk about anything. Yet, we also have the ability to guide the conversation towards a positive outcome for them and their concerns. So, whether your child wants to talk about it or not, we are not powerless to help them. We simply need to take the time to observe, consider, and try the drop and run approach.

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