There is a common myth that if my child is not talking about something it must mean they are not thinking about it. We would love to say that is the case, that most of the time our kids will share what they are feeling all the time. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, especially when it comes to children in the pre-teen and teen years. Especially for teens who have trauma and/or breaks of attachments in their background.
This absence of words around feelings can be due to lack of emotional language, not fully understanding how to articulate their feelings, and for some, out of concern about whether their parents can handle their emotions. This can lead to misunderstandings in the home, sometimes unintentionally overlooking of needed resources for your child, or your child feeling like they need to navigate hard emotions on their own.
Another common myth we hear is the concern that if I bring up hard conversations such as birth family, depression, suicide, race, or other similar topics, that will unintentionally cause my child to start struggling with things they may not be dealing with. Research shows that just asking your child about these topics does NOT make them more likely to start thinking about them. In fact, research shows that opening the door of conversation actually increases positive coping skills within the home, and can result in achieving access to needed resources.
So, what do parents do if they are not sure how to start bridging that communication gap with their child?
Find Parent Education that Helps Start the Conversation – Starting any hard conversation can be so difficult, especially with sensitive topics. If you don’t know where to start, google it! Honestly, there are some great articles out there on ways to talk to your child about different topics. Research what feels best to you and what will help build your courage around starting. Perfection is not what your child is looking for, nor what as parents we can give. That is an unobtainable goal.
Keeping the Line of Communication Open – By you bringing different topics to conversation with your child, you are saying, ‘If you ever feel this way I want to be someone you talk to.’ When you ask your child if they are thinking about birth family or if they would ever want to search for birth family, you are also saying, ‘I want to be open to whatever you want.’ Even as a white parent, it is okay to say, ‘I might not understand racism but I want you to know that I do want to listen and be there for you.’
Non-Judgmental Communication – As a parent it can be so hard not to put your own judgment and opinions into the conversation. You want the best for your child, and a lot of time the word “Best” is in the eyes of the beholder. So, what you might see as best might not be what is best for your child. Of course, you are the parent, so keeping them safe, and helping them to learn ethics and life skills is important. In these hard conversations on topics such as race, birth family, suicide, or others that word “best” is no longer relevant. You are now focused on the word “safe,” which means giving your child space to feel whatever they are feeling. Listening, believing, and accepting is what is needed in these hard conversation moments.
Finding Resources Early – Don’t wait until something is a problem to seek resources. By sending your child to culture camp, support groups, counseling, or just being with other families that look like yours, you are laying the groundwork before things might become harder. You are giving them resources before your child might need them. It is like the yearly check-up at your primary care doctor, the goal is to catch things early or prevent negative things from happening. That is needed in the mental health world as well! You don’t wait until your teeth rot to get them cleaned, you clean them so that they might not rot. Don’t wait until your child’s mental health is in a hard place to utilize resources, do it before!
The ending thought on this is don’t wait for your child to bring up sensitive issues. They may never initiate talking about a hard topic if the conversation has not already been started by you. Ask questions, create communities where they find a feeling of fitting in, and research!