Encouraging our children to talk about how they feel



Kelly Sparkes is a mum of 3 children 11, 10 and 8. 
Here she discusses the importance of teaching our children how to talk through their day and process the feelings that come from it.

How often do your children talk about what they feel? Do we as parents get to the end of a day at bedtime and be almost too tired to listen when little ones start talking about their day or something that’s bothered them?

We enjoyed seeing Phil, Lisa and her lovely boys at the weekend and had lots of fun with a bonfire in the garden, sparklers and even a few fireworks. Lisa’s boys are a bit younger than my three and in planning a nice time for us all I am often reminded of routines, bedtimes and the structure that we put in place when our children are small. I’ve never felt such exhaustion as I did when they were very little – the bath and bedtime routine always felt like it took the last of my reserves and patience! I often had two conflicting emotions, I looked forward to the quiet, peaceful moment when they were all asleep but also I didn’t want to rush through the things they loved.

As the children got a little older, starting nursery and school, they would often make a comment or tell me about their day just as I was saying goodnight. They would have already had their bath and a story but, at the end of the day with chores waiting, all I wanted was to tuck them up and say goodnight. It started to dawn on me that this was an important part of the day for them and I could easily miss it if I wasn’t careful. We have always encouraged our children to talk about what they feel, and from a very young age as they were settling down their little minds would need to unload things that had happened during the day. It was very natural to ask a question or to talk about something that had bothered them. Unkindnesses they had seen or experienced would surface – sometimes in a roundabout way but I started to learn that even though I was tired and needed to get on, I also needed to listen, engage and understand what they were saying.

If I notice unusually difficult behaviour it can be an indicator that they have become unsettled and most likely it will be something that happened at school. This isn’t always the case as children always test their parents – but it is my job to find out if their behaviour is rooted in something else. School is a tough place and if they feel sad or bad about something it can come out as negative behaviour. Even in nursery, if another child has ruined a game, or broken toys, most children won’t like it. They’ll need to know that some of the behaviour they see and experience is wrong and that they are right to feel cross or sad that things are spoilt. Our response as parents is vital to a child feeling accepted in what they share. Sometimes they just need us to listen but most importantly they are looking for reassurance that what they feel is understood.

Each one of my children is very different; one talks openly and naturally, one is a deep thinker but doesn’t always recognise or share his feelings, and the other, if I ask the right questions, only then do I get to the heart of what she feels. It is my job to help them learn how to express what they feel and understand the things they face; friendships, worries, disappointments. Part of that is knowing the right time to ask, and for my three children it’s definitely not as they walk out of school! Often, it’s still at bedtime when they are settling and have me or my husband to themselves. We will also give each of them opportunities on their own, a car journey, a walk or special time playing a game one to one – just so they have the space and freedom to learn to talk and share.
As they grow from child to teenager, teenager into adulthood, this will become a natural part of their lives where they are able to process what they feel in a healthily positive way enabling them to cope with all that life has to offer.

Kelly Sparkes