Talking about mental health isn’t easy. But it’s human. As parents we put in hard work to ensure the mental wellness of our kids.
That doesn’t mean we always know how to navigate those really tricky situations and topics with teens and tweens who already feel really uncomfortable talking about certain subjects.
We reached out to Pamela Hansen, CD, MHI, MEI, is a Certified Mediator, Mental Health First Aid Instructor, and Conflict Management Specialist who has over 15 years experience having difficult conversations with tweens and teens.
When it comes to difficult conversations, one of the hardest things is being able to stay present and in the moment. When it comes to our kids, our emotions can really take us for a ride. We want the very best for them, but we can also be really scared AND really overwhelmed ourselves! It’s normal to feel helpless sometimes.
So how do you stay focused and available emotionally for your kid and not let your fears, anxieties, anger or other emotions or tasks take you off track?
Of course it is important to ensure you are emotionally available to have the conversation. If you are distracted, in the wrong headspace, or overwhelmed yourself, it’s best to put a pause on the conversation until you can be more present. There’s no guilt in taking care of your own needs first so that you can be available for others. In fact it is necessary.
Here are some tangible strategies to use when reaching out to someone to have a conversation about a vulnerable or difficult topic. These tips help you stay available to support others without getting overwhelmed or feeling helpless yourself:
1) Do your homework
Knowing what you want to say can help with the anxiety around having a difficult conversation. Script out key points for your conversation and practice saying them in advance – it allows you to be clear on your issue, identify your desired outcome and it helps keep your emotions in check. You don’t need to have all the answers. but knowing what you want to say, and what you both hope to achieve can help both of you from becoming de-railed.
2) Grab a beverage!
When it comes to difficult conversations it’s so easy to stumble over words or talk quickly to fill silences to avoid discomfort. However, learning to be comfortable with silence can help the person you’re talking with process the conversation better, and thus you both achieve better outcomes and feel more understood. Be comfortable in silence and be mindful of your body language. Focus on staying relaxed and open. A wonderful strategy is to have a beverage with you and enjoy a long sip while the person is thinking about your words. It allows for openness without anyone feeling the pressure to fill the gap!
3) Pick the right location
Timing and environment is everything. When we aren’t feeling in a safe space, or in a space where we have power, we can shut down and become defensive. Offer the person an opportunity to choose the best time and place to have the conversation with you, this should help put them at ease. When they feel relaxed in the environment, they feel relaxed with you, which means a more productive conversation will ensue.
Having difficult conversations isn’t easy. Looking after yourself is key because, as parents, we all know there is another difficult conversation waiting for us again right around the corner. “
So there you have it – difficult conversations can become much easier if you know when to have them, you prepare a bit in advance, and don’t put pressure on yourself to make it perfect.
Here’s the good news: The more you engage and practice these skills, the easier and less anxiety-invoking difficult topics will become. In no time flat you will be a difficult conversation pro.