Often parents tell me they are not sure how to start a conversation with their child about problems with feelings and actions. These are problems that parent and child recognize. Parents are coming in because they are constantly being challenged by their child’s behavior or the child is suffering daily.

One thing that makes it hard to talk about problems with kids is that when the problem comes up the situation is tense, frustrated, or overwhelming emotionally. How to start talking about something that everyone in the family knows is a problem in a neutral way is a big challenge.

Children (actually most people including adults) tend to see their struggles as unique and unusual. As a clinical psychologist who works with a number of children, I have found that kids are relieved to know that they are not alone in their struggles. They are happy to know that the secret problem that they have tried so hard to cope with has caused problems for lots of other kids. Sometimes when children have the information that their problem is a common problem, they can accept themselves. They are often better prepared to accept help and to try something new.

There are a number of resources to help a parent help their child. Here is a website page from the American Psychological Association that has a number of books on helping kids with common problems that bring children into therapy: http://www.apa.org/pubs/magination/441B005.aspx.  The specific book at this link is on problems with anger. If you click the tab Companion Products in the box at the bottom of the page you will find a list of books that address some of the more common problems that bring children into therapy.

Another site which is wonderful for professionals as well as families is the Feeling Factory.  At this site there are many books, games, and activities. One of my favorite tools is under the Activities link. There are two different decks of cards that deal with emotion. I love to use a small subset of the cards to play a game of charades. One person draws a card and must display the feeling while the other plays try to guess the feeling. With older children, I ask the player to tell a story without using any feeling words and to identify what they were thinking during the situation. That is a difficult game but it helps to show that how some is thinking has a big impact on how they are thinking.

The better that your child understands emotion the easier it is for your child to communicate their feelings and talk about solutions. I hope that you have fun with these tools and it helps get  a tough conversation started in a neutral manner.

Kelly Champion, PhD.