Talking Through Feelings: Family Conversation Starters
by Sean Wade, Director of Family and Volunteer Engagement
Parents and caregivers are being tasked with a near-impossible combination of roles during this time: working from home, home-schooling, counseling, managing your and your family’s stress, economic challenges, and much more.
Just like we as parents are dealing with different, sometimes conflicting, emotions and feelings, so are our kids. While you give yourself grace that you can’t do it all, here are a few ways you can help your kids talk through and process what they’re feeling.
- Start by keeping it simple. Check in with kids when you notice a change in mood and set a regular time to ask how they’re feeling, like during family meals. At the end of the day, ask kids to share roses and thorns or highs and lows – at least one positive thing from the day and one thing that made them feel down. Encourage them to talk through how each made them feel. Focus on celebrating the positives and acknowledging that even during days with more lows, there are things to be grateful for and feel good about.
- Practice empathy and acknowledge diversity of emotions. Ask kids to identify different feelings they see in others – during a TV show, after a Zoom call with friends, or in your own family – and let them know it’s okay to feel sad, angry, and frustrated. You can talk about times you’ve felt that way and encourage (but don’t force) them to do the same. Some kids also may feel guilt about feeling happy or content during a time when so many people are suffering – let them know it’s okay to both feel happy and also have empathy for others who are hurting or feeling sad or upset.
- Use mindfulness exercises to teach emotional awareness. Try some of the breathing and mindfulness exercises here and, afterward, ask kids how they felt as they were breathing. What sounds did they hear while listening to their own breaths? What did they feel? How do they feel different now than before the exercises? Use the opportunity to talk about how you can use deep breathing to ease anxiety and go to a calm place.
- Get up and move! Movement releases dopamine and helps the brain process different emotions so that it’s easier to talk through them. Go for a walk, play basketball in the driveway, or do jumping jacks inside – try different ways to get kids to move their body. Especially if kids are having trouble talking about their feelings, this is a good way to distract them and allow you to talk in a more relaxed setting.
- Let their questions guide you. The National Association of School Psychologists has some great tips on how to talk to kids about COVID-19, and age-appropriate messages to share. One piece of advice they offer is to let kids’ questions guide the conversation, especially for older elementary ages and up. Make space for kids to ask about and talk through what’s on their mind, and use that page as a resource to help you find answers you may not have on your own.