Approaching Hard Conversations with Kids

Kids notice when adults around them are feeling stress, pressure, anxiety, or concern. 

Between changes in daily life stemming from COVID-19, the racial justice movement, political divisiveness, financial pressures, and more, kids are noticing when adults around them may be feeling different emotions. They don’t always know what to do about it or have the social and emotional skills developed enough yet to express themselves. Young children need to feel safe, supported, and informed as we grapple with these tough times. 

You can help. Approaching hard conversations with kids is very important. 

Here are a few ways we suggest to approach hard conversations:
  • Recognize their verbal and nonverbal cues. 
    • Our bodies can react physically to different emotions, and kids can demonstrate emotions in many ways. Sometimes kids behave differently under pressure and you can pick up on what they might be feeling when they haven’t yet said. Impulse control, for example, is a social-emotional skill that takes practice for kids. Be patient and recognize that their actions might be caused by underlying stress or other reasons.
  • Open the space for kids to acknowledge and name what they are feeling. 
    • Help them practice identifying emotions by asking what they’re feeling and what they think the other adults around them are feeling.
    • Ask them questions that are simple like, “What have you heard?” and “what are your questions or fears about that?
  • Validate their emotions. 
    • Saying something like “what you are feeling is ok” or “I understand, that is hard” is something simple that can go a long way. This can help increase their self-confidence.
  • Keep answers simple and honest.
    • Be clear about the facts, what is in your/their control and out of your/their control, and be reassuring about reasonable expectations using simple language.
  • Lead with empathy. Kids can learn empathy by modeling adults, so it is important to demonstrate you understand how they are feeling. To be truly empathetic take a deep listening role and try intentionally to avoid:
    • Dodging questions or discussions
    • Trying to show the bright/positive side to change their perspective
    • Minimizing their feelings or the problem
    • Advising how to fix the situation
    • Tell stories of similar situations
    • Try to out-rank their feelings or the problem with bigger problems
    • Blowing the problem or their feelings out of proportion.
  • A great way to reduce stress, increase connection, and to end hard conversations is by playing together. This can be one thing that helps a kid feel better. 

Here are some resources you can use to support your conversations. 

Political Divisiveness

Racial justice:


Supporting LGBTQ youth:

Return to the Keep Playing Homepage