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How to ask your kids about feeling stressed



Mental health pros help guide questioning parents

How to ask your kids about feeling stressed


I’ve often told expectant parents: there will be a period of time in which your child thinks you know everything. Your kid knows so little, and thus, thinks you are a genius because you can drive a car, or turn symbols on the page into sounds.

But of course eventually you must say, “I don’t know,” or “I do not have that particular ability,” or “I do not know what is going to happen.” Your child then grapples with a broader sense of uncertainty.

The deeper insecurity of Covid-19 is especially stressful for children, who naturally seek solidity in their world, trying to know what is safe, what or who is dependable. How can we help them feel better? Donna Freydkin, writing for fatherly.com, has some good advice.

First off, rather than tell them lies, find a way to be truthful that will honor their intelligence while gracefully affirming what’s good and solid in their lives. 

Or, as Dr. Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, explains: “Our job as parents isn’t to provide certainty in a time of uncertainty. Our job is to help kids tolerate the uncertainty. We want to teach them how to tolerate not knowing. 

You should let them explain how they’re feeling and why, and you can help them validate those feelings by saying things like, ‘I have similar worries. Let’s brainstorm ideas on how we can make things better.’ Instead of just giving answers, you want to have a conversation and compare notes.”

READ MORE: How to recognize stress in your child

As Freydkin puts it: “Kids don’t need specific answers, they need broader certitude that they are loved and will be taken care of — certitude that makes the ambiguity of the moment manageable.”

Bubrick stresses asking clear, rather than vague, questions, and offers a list:

  • What did you learn about today?

  • What is something interesting or funny you heard about today?

  • What was the most fun thing you did today?

  • What are you most looking forward to tomorrow?

  • What was the toughest part of your day today?

  • What was something you didn’t like about your day?

  • What got in the way today of you having a fun day?

  • What can we do together to make it better?

  • I read something interesting today and wanted to know if you had a reaction to it? 

In our family, we learned the value of talking about important things in the car, while driving somewhere. The lack of face-to-face interaction actually seemed to inspire more openness. With Covid-19, that’s not so advisable. 

Burbrick strongly suggests asking questions not at bedtime or in the morning, but some neutral time, like during dinner, or during a walk. The latter has worked well for us. Having the outside environment around us provides a sense of expansiveness, and of course no screens.

Once kids open up, they will likely feel less overwhelmed and burdened by their legit worries, and more connected to that which they need not worry about: the love of family.



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