Managing Difficult conversations with your child

Prepare Yourself

Before supporting children, it is important to consider your own psychological well-being. Given the unpredictable nature of the current climate, and the previous situation with protests, people in Hong Kong have experienced increased levels of stress that impact each individual in different ways. It may be helpful for adults to consider the following:

Check in with your own emotions. It is important to think about where your levels of stress, anxiety, or sadness are, and think about whether you need to take steps to better manage these emotions. Children are usually very attuned to your emotions and may respond to your mood.

Take a mindful moment. Focus on a mindful moment, do things to break the cycle of stress. Focus on making a cup of tea, doing some exercise, going for a walk, or taking a bath. When engaging in a mindful moment, focus on the moment, and if you notice your mind wandering away from the activity draw it back to the task at hand.

Manage social media. Ensure you take breaks from accessing constant and overwhelming information and that your resources are credible.

Be mindful of your conversations. Children are perceptive of mood and may overhear adult conversations. It is important to think about the messages you may be directly or indirectly sending to your child when discussing the current situation in Hong Kong, and globally. The circumstances are very complex and fluid, and whilst we as adults may comprehend that, children and some teenagers will likely not fully understand or experience the situation in the same way.

Model managing your own emotions. In an age-appropriate manner, it may be helpful to acknowledge your stress and explain that you are struggling and trying to manage things in a healthy way. This helps normalise the stress you are experiencing and will help your child manage their feelings in a more positive way.

Know when to seek help for you and/or your child. Although distress and worry, in addition to other issues, may last for a long time and are entirely appropriate feelings following a traumatic event, seek immediate help from your family doctor or from a mental health professional if your emotions are interfering with yours or your child’s ability to function.

Tips on Talking to Your Child

Reassure your child that they are safe. All children, from toddlers to teenagers, look to adults for comfort and support. It is important to reassure them that they are safe despite what they may be seeing or hearing.

Encourage routine and normality. If it is safe to do so, it is important to continue activities, playdates, and usual routines as much as possible. If your child’s school is closed, it is also important to think about accessing online learning material that the school provides, and perhaps having classmates come over to complete work together.

Plan for opportunities to talk. Find natural openings to have discussions without putting pressure on your child to talk if they do not want to. Ask simple questions to check-in with how they are doing. Follow these conversations with a discussion about recent positive events to help them feel safe and calm.

Prevent or limit exposure to news coverage. This is especially critical with primary school children. It is important to think about how your children may be accessing information – from friends, social media channels, and TV. Some older children and teenagers are likely actively seeking out information but may not have the capacity to differentiate sensationalist or fake news. It is important that if your older child or teenager wants to research that you do the research together, or you oversee the sources they are accessing.

Be a good listener. Try to be understanding about how your child views the situation, and what is confusing or troubling to them. Do not lecture and let your child know it is okay to share with you how they are feeling at any time.

Validate what they are feeling. It is important to reflect and acknowledge your child’s thoughts and emotions, and to let them know that it is okay to not feel okay. Try not to negate their feelings with responses such as, “oh, don’t be worried”. This may cause them to feel embarrassed or criticised. It is better to confirm and reflect what you are hearing – “yes, I can see that you are worried”.

Constant Questions. Realise that the questions may persist as it is quite common for children when they are processing events. Let them know you are available to talk at any time. Children need to digest information in their own time, and questions might come out of nowhere.

Encourage children to tell the story of what happened. This can be done through talking, playing, drawing, or writing a story. Telling the story in their own words can help them to make sense of their world and cope with their feelings. It also provides them with understanding about what is in and out of their control.

Promote relaxation and model it. There are many ways to do this. Belly breathing, yoga, and mindfulness, are all helpful ways for the family to de-stress. ‘GoNoodle’ provides a variety of interactive videos on Youtube that children may enjoy.

Express Gratitude and foster hope. There is significant research to show that expressing gratitude can boost positive emotions. Highlight positive moments and draw attention to what they are grateful for.

Signs of Distress or Worry

  • Changes in sleeping patterns (nightmares, trouble settling down to sleep, expressing fear about sleeping)
  • Irritability, anger, and moodiness
  • Poor concentration
  • Changes in appetite
  • Behavioural problems (acting out, tantrums)
  • Jittery or jumpy behaviour
  • Regression of behaviour in young children, such as clinging, bedwetting, thumb-sucking, trouble separating, baby-talk)
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Crying and tearfulness
  • Increased fearfulness (worries about monsters, the dark, being alone)
  • Functional impairment (trouble going to school, performing in school, playing with friends)

Additional resources: You can seek additional support and guidance with your child’s school counsellor. They are experienced in helping children manage their emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Your child’s counsellor can provide you with additional strategies and ideas for helping to support your child at home.