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Date: Wednesday 20 May 2020
Author: Deborah Kerpner, Manager at Off the Record, and Maggie Greene, Counsellor at Off the Record

It can be hard for young people to manage and talk about difficult emotions, and their lack of life experience can make it more difficult to cope.

Having someone who can really listen to their feelings makes all the difference to helping your child cope well instead of going into panic.

It is surprisingly hard to really listen, but it is a skill everyone can learn. For counsellors, listening really well is a fundamental skill. We hope this blog will help.

Making space to listen

  • Find a good moment when things are calm to ask your child how they are doing or if they want to talk. Don’t be put off by a 'no'. They are probably not used to you offering. Try again another time.
  • If they are willing, let them talk. Don’t jump in, even to help or comment. Do put aside all your own opinions and feelings, temporarily, to properly listen. Remember you are listening to them NOT you.

Ask questions

  • Problem-solving for your child can make them feel more helpless. Just be curious about what’s going on for them
  • Asking 'Why did you do that?' can sound judgemental, but 'what happened next?' or 'how was that for you?' is engaged and interested and gives them space to explore. Asking 'what did you want to do' can also help
  • Check if you have understood right - 'It sounds like this… is this right?' and let them correct you. If you are really trying to understand, your child will forgive any mistakes
  • Ask what they need – Do they just need to vent? Or to brainstorm solutions? Trust that they know what they need and can work this out

Listening to emotions

  • Only 10% of communication is through words. It requires careful attention to pick up what is not being said. Your child will read a lot from your expression, posture and tone too – it is helpful to listen to yourself when you reply
  • Being allowed to have and express feelings is always a relief and takes out the panic. Naming feelings helps us understand what is going on and feel more accepting of ourselves
  • Anger can arise if we feel unheard or scared, so being able to express anger is important too. It is also very natural to feel anger whenever life isn’t how we want it
  • It will help your child to speak more openly if they know it is private and you won’t share with anyone else
  • Come back to them later to see how they are feeling. They may feel anxious about what they shared and wonder what you are thinking. Let them know you are still available to talk

You too

It can be very hard to listen to your child struggling and not have your own feelings or reactions. It’s okay to ask for help if you feel your child is at risk or you feel 'out of your depth'. 

More information

Off The Record is seeing current clients online, and offering support to those on our waiting list. We hope to reopen the waiting list soon, but you can call our office on 020 8744 1644 if you want to talk about your child or our services.

Updated: 24 March 2021