How to talk with your child about social and emotional issues

How to talk with your child about social-emotional issues, father talking to son on front step to house

At a glance

  • Talking openly about social and emotional issues is important.

  • Kids may be reluctant to talk, so keep the first conversation simple.

  • Letting kids know you’re there to listen and not judge helps them feel more comfortable about talking.

When kids have trouble with social and emotional skills, it may be uncomfortable to talk about the challenges they face. But it’s important to talk openly and show them there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

Talking about struggles with emotions and social skills shows that how your child feels matters to you. And it helps kids put into perspective that they may struggle with certain things, but not with everything.

Find out what you can say, and when to say it.

When to talk to your child

Don’t think of this as a one-time conversation. The first conversation is just the beginning. It’ll help your child know you’re there to listen and to help.

Early on, try to keep things simple. As kids start to understand more and their skills change, your conversations will change, too. In fact, it may get easier to talk about things because as kids learn more about themselves, they may be less defensive when talking about uncomfortable subjects.

What to say to your child

Most kids know when things are harder for them than for other kids. Acknowledging that they may feel different is important. But also let them know they’re not the only ones who struggle to manage their emotions and behavior.

In fact, that’s a good way to start the conversation — by saying that out loud. Here are more things you can say.

“I know this is hard for you. I want to help.”

Kids who struggle with social and emotional issues may feel lonely or alone. Remind your child how much you care.

Try to say things like “I love you” and “We’re going to work to make this OK.” (Don’t say “Everything is going to be OK” unless you’re sure it’s going to be. You don’t want to overpromise.)

“I’m concerned about…”

Be direct about what’s worrying you. Kids need to understand why you’re concerned. And they need to not feel blamed — and to know there’s room for improvement.

Talk about specific situations. It’s better to say, “I’m concerned that you got so angry when we had to leave the birthday party,” than to say something vague like, “It worries me that you get so angry sometimes.”

“I’ve noticed that...”

If you’re worried about your child’s mood or attitude, point it out in a way that emphasizes what you’re seeing. Avoid saying things like “You always seem so down lately.” Or “You never want to hang out with friends anymore.” Instead, try things like:

  • “I’ve noticed you seem sad and anxious. Am I reading that right?”
  • “I haven’t seen you spend much time with friends recently. Can we talk about that?”

“I believe you.”

If your child is upset about something that wouldn’t make you upset, it’s still very real to them. It’s rarely helpful to tell kids to “get over it” or that they “shouldn’t feel that way” when they’re upset.

Instead, encourage kids to be open about their fears. Tell them you believe them and try to respond with empathy.

“Tell me what’s on your mind.”

When talking with your child about struggles, listen before talking. Sometimes if you jump right to advice, it shuts down the conversation.

Once your child has shared what’s on their mind, you can offer advice or suggestions. Help your child identify the specific problem by restating what you heard.

“Let’s brainstorm some solutions.”

Ask questions like “What could you do in situations like this?” Follow up with questions like “What do you think would happen if you tried that?” If your child is stuck, share what you think might happen or how you might handle it.

After you’ve talked through possible solutions, ask your child to choose what’s most likely to solve the problem. Just remember — it’s your child’s choice, not yours.

It can be hard to talk to kids about social and emotional struggles. But it’s important. It can bring you closer and shows there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Learn about how the types of emotional help for your child and read more about when it’s time to seek out help.

Key takeaways

  • Be specific about your concerns and what you’re seeing.

  • Listen before offering solutions, and assure your child that you know it’s a big deal.

  • If you have trouble staying calm when your child is explosive, role-play with a friend or partner.

About the author

About the author

Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days. 


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