By Dr Dain Heer
How do you ask your child if they are ok?
It is one of the most important questions to ask your kids, and it is also one of the hardest.
It may not be what we would like to hear, and I say: be grateful. That answer is your invitation to contribute to your child during one of the most confusing times of their life.
Up until the global pandemic began, the world made some kind of sense to most kids. But as the pandemic progresses, it is challenging the things that most of them have taken for granted up to this point – going to school, hanging out with friends, seeing their grandparents, and planning for the future.
Even worse, no one can tell them when this will be over. Not even their go-to oracles: their parents. They are left with an eerie sense of insecurity. That is hard enough for us adults to handle. Just imagine if you had to deal with that as a child or teenager!
Young people need someone they can trust
Organisations such as the Australian Medical Association are predicting a 25-50% increase in national suicides over the next five years. With suicides currently the leading cause of death in Australia young people between the ages of 15-24, the possibility of an increase is concerning, for us all.
Having personally suffered from depression to the point where 20 years ago I set a date to end my life, I know how important it is to have someone in your life that cares for you.
Someone from whom you can ask for help.
Someone that you can trust.
As a parent, you can be that for your kids. You can help them navigate this new unpredictable world in which we now live.
And as a parent, there are always people to talk to, to help, such as Lifeline, PANDA – Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia and Gidget Foundation Australia.
How do you ask your child if they are ok? Top 3 tips on how to check in with your child
1 // Talk with your kids
Start talking with your kids about real things when they are very young. Make sure they know you are willing to hear anything: the good, the bad, and the ugly. If your kids are older and you do not have great communication, don’t judge yourself for that.
Just START NOW! It is never too late.
Ask questions. And listen to the answer, in words, energy or actions. Be interested. Be present. Engage. Sometimes the greatest contribution you can make to your child is giving them your full attention, where they get to be the most important person at that moment.
2 // Never judge your child or their choices
If you judge your kids for the choices they make, they will stop coming to you when there are things they are struggling with. Actually, they will stop coming to you, period. They need to know that no matter what they tell you, they will not be judged.
If your teenager tells you they were drinking, ask them questions. Did you have fun? Tell me about it? Being interested in your child’s life, without continuously grading their experiences as right or wrong or good and bad, creates the space for them to come to you with the big things.
The old paradigm of parenting to teach our kids right and wrong no longer works. The world is different and what was true for you may not be true for your kids. Find out how they see the world and what works for them.
What if your kids could be your greatest teachers? And what if being your teacher is a gift to them?
3 // Tell your kids that they are a gift and that their voice matters
Feelings of not fitting in, of being unworthy and different are not uncommon as kids grow up.
Teenagers spend an enormous amount of time and energy comparing themselves to others. They wonder what their value is and yearn for validation. They seek meaning and identity. Navigating through this can be difficult, especially today with social media flooding with points of view.
As a parent to teenagers, it sometimes seems like everyone else’s point of view matters more than yours. Don’t give up. What you say does matter – even if your teenager pretends it doesn’t.
Have conversations that acknowledge that what makes your child different is what makes them great. Talk to them about people they respect and admire and point out their differences. Let them know that you are a safe space for them, where they are appreciated and acknowledged for exactly who they are.
Even if they are just able to hear 5% of all of that at the moment, those 5% matter more than you can imagine!
So, how do you ask your child if they are ok?
First, be willing to hear that they are not. Then be the voice and the ear that lets them know that no matter what they face, they’ve got this.