How can I talk to a parent/caregiver about something?

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Having a difficult conversation can be nerve-racking. You may be afraid or anxious to share what’s on your mind, especially if you’re talking to someone who’s important to you. If you have a parent/caregiver in your life, who you’d like to share something with, there are things you can try to make talking about it a little easier.

Important note: Kids Help Phone is using the term “parent/caregiver” to make this piece easier to read. However, everyone’s family structure and relationships are different. This term could apply to any caregiver(s) you may have in your life (e.g. foster parents, grandparents, adopted parents, stepparents, other relatives, etc.). You can always use the words that work best for you.

School stress. Relationships. Racism. The future. COVID-19. Young people across Canada may be facing different issues that they want to bring up with an adult. Depending on your relationship and circumstance, learning how to talk to a parent/caregiver may take practise. And feeling comfortable/confident enough to get what you need out of the discussion may take time, too, especially if something is particularly hard for you to talk about or if it brings up a lot of emotions.

Here, Kids Help Phone shares some tips and sample phrases you can use to help make talking to a parent/caregiver about what’s on your mind less nerve-racking and more effective.

Remember, if you or someone you know is in immediate danger, it’s important to get support right away. You can contact a safe adult, the emergency services in your area and/or mobile crisis support (if available) for help.

Are you ready to talk to a parent/caregiver about what’s on your mind?

If you’re ready and you feel safe, you can use the tips and sample phrases below about a young person who’s struggling with school stress during COVID-19 to help you talk to a parent/caregiver about what’s going on for you. Follow along with the suggestions and examples (highlighted in quotation marks) — this can help you identify ideas and practical phrases you can use for your conversation. You can always choose to try what makes the most sense for you.

Try to keep in mind that every conversation is unique. You and your parent/caregiver may use different language or have different experiences than what you see below. We’ve provided sample wording to give you a sense of what you could say, but it doesn’t represent every situation or relationship in real life. If you need more ideas or inspiration, you can always reach out to Kids Help Phone!

Young person sitting in a chair by the window with a notebook

Tip #1: Set goals and expectations

Take time to think about what you hope to get out of the conversation. What do you need right now? What do you think may happen? You can write down some realistic goals for your chat to help guide the discussion. Some common goals are to share feelings, talk about something going on, brainstorm ideas, etc. You can also write down some of your expectations for how you’d like to be treated so you’re on the same page. One example of this is explaining that if things get overwhelming or are going off track, you’ll take a break. This may be the first conversation of many, so you may have different goals/expectations for each as you go.

“OK, I know I need to tell an adult about what I’m going through at school. I need someone to help me plan better — this distance learning thing is so confusing. I just want them to listen and help and not get upset that I missed some due dates.”

Young person looking in a mirror

Tip #2: Practise

It can be hard to say (and remember!) everything when you need to share it with someone. Consider writing down the most important things you’d like to talk about and ways you can say them to your parent/caregiver. You could prioritize your list, and have your notes with you during your chat. You can practise what you’d like to say on your own, with a friend or with someone else you trust to get used to it. (Kids Help Phone is here if you’d like to practise with a professional counsellor over the phone. You can also explore our website for more tools and resources!)

“Hey! I want to practise what I’m going to say to someone about missing some projects at school. I’m kind of stressed out about it. Can I try going through the things I want to say with you?”

Young person sitting on a couch and using a phone

Tip #3: Set a time

Ask your parent/caregiver if you can take some time to chat. You can ask in the way that feels right for you (e.g. with a text, email, etc.). If you live with them during COVID-19, you can have the discussion in person if you’d like. If you can’t be in person or if you prefer, consider virtual ways to connect (e.g. video chat, phone call, etc.). Try to choose a time and space that’s quiet/calm, free of distractions and private.

“I have something to talk to you about, and it’s sort of important. Can we take some time to chat about it today or tomorrow?”

Young person talking to an adult in a room

Tip #4: Start gently

When it’s time to talk, you can begin by thanking your parent/caregiver for having the conversation with you. You can also let them know how you’re feeling in the moment.

“Hi! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me tonight. I’m glad we’re doing this, but I’m really nervous.”

Young person talking to an adult on a bench outside

Tip #5: Open up

You can let your parent/caregiver know when you’re ready to share what’s going on for you. Try to take deep breaths as you go to help calm your nerves if you need to.

“So I have to talk to you about something, but it’s really hard for me. I’ve been afraid to tell you in case you got mad.”

Young person sitting at a table writing in a notebook

Tip #6: Share what’s on your mind

Using your notes as needed, you can talk to your parent/caregiver about what’s been happening. Pace yourself, and start with the most important stuff first.

“Since COVID-19 happened, I’ve been having a hard time keeping up at school. It seems impossible to juggle all of my projects, and I even missed two due dates because I didn’t see them. I’m really scared I’m going to fail.”

Young person sitting on a couch holding up a phone

Tip #7: Check in with yourself

When we experience tough situations or feelings, it can be hard to think clearly. Check in with yourself about how you’re doing as the conversation progresses. It’s OK if you do or don’t show your emotions. If things get too intense, heated or aren’t going according to plan, you can take a break and come back later. And if you start to feel like your parent/caregiver isn’t the right person to have this conversation with, or that this isn’t the best time, you can ask to take a pause and consider if there’s someone else who may be better able to help. You can also bring in another person (e.g. a Kids Help Phone counsellor, therapist, community leader, etc.) if you’re feeling stuck.

“I’m actually starting to feel like this is too much for me to talk about right now. Can we take a break and come back to it tomorrow morning before school?”

Young person and an adult sitting on a bench outside

Tip #8: Share your goals

During your chat, you can share your conversation goals with your parent/caregiver, including if you need their support. This can make things more clear to you and them about what you’re hoping to get out of the discussion. Your parent/caregiver may help you figure out some options. And don’t forget, you can write down what’s said so you can reflect on it later. You can also try repeating back what they say to confirm your understanding, and encourage them to do the same.

“I’m wondering if you can help me work through all of this school stuff so I don’t miss any more assignments. I’m hoping we can take a look at my homework together, and figure out a way to be more organized.”

Young person and an adult looking at a laptop

Tip #9: Take next steps

You can work through what you each need to do to address the issue/your goals and get support as needed. These next steps can happen right away, or when you’ve had a chance to think them through.

“I think writing out a calendar would help me calm down and get back on track. We could also try talking to my teacher together. Can we go to the computer now and look at things?”

Talking to your parent/caregiver about something on your mind can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be scary. To get support with having a difficult conversation, you can reach out to someone you trust.

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