There can be some fear attached to bringing up a painful event or drawing attention to difficult aspects of a child or teen’s life. However, bringing it up in a supportive and loving manner can be healthy and healing. Providing a child or teen the opportunity to share their thoughts or feelings regarding an aspect of their lives can be helpful for the present and their future. This can be as simple as asking “What do you think about that now?” “Why do you think that happened?” “What was that like for you then?” or “How does it feel when you think about that?”
It is helpful to ask open ended questions, to listen, be supportive, and possibly provide clarification if need be. Here are several reasons to provide the opportunity to share or to engage in this discussion:
1. It creates the opportunity for correcting unrealistic or unhealthy interpretations. Many young people blame themselves for the actions of adults. Even rational adults can look back to earlier experiences and feel a sense of guilt or shame. This is an opportunity to adjust the child or teen’s interpretation of events to avoid taking responsibility for events outside of their control.
2. It can help to build effective communication skills. Having the experience of effectively articulating how we feel or what we think can be empowering, especially within a supportive and caring environment.
3. It can assist with coping. Adults can help to introduce the concepts of venting feelings, releasing feelings, and embracing feelings.
4. It can prevent bottled up feelings that can lead to other serious problems. Serious issues, like histories of trauma, abandonment, abuse, witnessing ongoing conflicts or unhealthy relationships, whether they are confronted or not, will have an impact on a person. Intervening early on can allow for the impact to be lessened and possibly add to the strength and resilience of the child or teen. Past events cannot be undone, and avoiding them by not addressing them does not make them go away. The sooner we deal with painful events, the better.
5. Avoiding problems can manifest in the form of depression, anxiety, drug abuse, risky behaviors, problems in relationships, or problems managing daily stress and responsibilities. Confronting issues by simply giving the space to do so can help to avoid some of these issues from developing.
Even if a child seems perfectly fine and well adjusted, there is no harm in asking about their thoughts on a past event or ongoing situation they were in. There is always the fear that bringing it up will only remind them of it or make it worse. That is not the case, because if it was serious, they have not forgotten it. Asking about it demonstrates that you are aware and that you care. It makes the statement that it is okay to think about, talk about, and have feelings about it. When it comes to painful events, validation and support can provide positive outcomes while potentially avoiding some of the negative ones.
Victim of child abuse image available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 10 Sep 2013