Getting more than a one-word response out of a child can be a challenge.
Asking ‘how was your day?’ or ‘ how do you feel?’ can barely get more than a grunt at times.
As adults, we understand how beneficial talking therapies can be and simply talking can be a healer.
However, for children and young adults, it can be a challenge to communicate their feelings.
There is huge value in talking and lightening the mental load.
When we allow things to go round and round in our minds, they can eat away at us.
For kids, not feeling able to express their emotions through talking, and keeping them inside can mean these thoughts cause overwhelm.
When such thoughts build-up, it can feel impossible to make a decision or feel in control of a situation.
Ultimately, this can cause a negative spiral.
What’s On Your Child’s Mind?
For children and young adults, there is so much that could be causing overwhelming thoughts, including:
- Friendship circles
- Schoolwork and homework pressure
- Exam stress
- Career worries
- Low confidence and self-esteem
- Family and relationship anxiety
- Low self-worth and not feeling good enough.
Why Won’t They Open Up?
There can be a lot going on for your child, but all of these things can feel too difficult to talk about.
In some cases, it may be that your child doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you about it.
In other cases, they may not feel able to articulate the right words.
It could be that they simply feel embarrassed about what they are worried about and don’t want to share it.
As an adult, it can feel hurtful that a child doesn’t want to open up.
However, it can often be the case that the child worries about upsetting you, making you angry or disappointed.
A child could worry about shocking you or causing a knee-jerk reaction from you.
Similarly, adults can worry about knowing the right way to handle what a child shares.
You may not know how to support your child or what to reply with.
Ultimately, this worry (on both sides) can cause very minimal conversations or one-word responses.
These superficial conversations mean that you gain little insight into what’s going on with your child.
So, if your child doesn’t feel able to open up by talking, what else can you do to help your child manage their worries?
Putting Pen To Paper: Helping Children To Journal
Journaling is a fantastic way to get your child to release whatever’s on their mind and get it down on paper in whatever format they want.
With a blank space, a child can put their thoughts down with pictures, doodling, venting, bullet points, or even writing letters that they’ll never send.
It can be an incredibly creative and expressive process, but it is also entirely adaptable to suit every child.
Whether they want to write for hours or simply draw an emoji of how they feel each day, it can be great for easing worries and freeing up some mental space.
Journaling offers a range of benefits too:
- Increasing emotional intelligence
- Understanding and verbalising emotions
- Celebrating successes and building a positive mindset
- Tracking feelings and thoughts over time to see patterns
- Processing and reflecting on challenging events
- Making rational, thought-out decisions
- Planning and preparing
- for upcoming challenges.
So, how can adults encourage children and teens to start journaling?
Five Steps To Support Your Child With Journalling
Encourage But Don’t Enforce
While regular journaling can be an excellent habit, it is important not to force your child to do it.
It is best not to dictate a specific time or place to journal. Instead, perhaps offer to buy a new notebook for them that they enjoy using and then provide them with space to journal whenever it suits them.
It may help to ask them when they think is the best time to journal.
They may like to reflect on the day straight after school, after the evening meal or just before bed.
Whenever they choose, it must be their decision, not when you think is best.
Make It Creative
This step applies to both adults and children.
From choosing a favourite pen or colour or adding different media such as stickers, post-its and drawings, journaling becomes much more fun when you have your favourite tools.
This also allows the child to journal differently each day, from mind-mapping to doodling to long-form diary entries.
When your child finds a pen or pencil that they enjoy using, they are far more likely to want to pick up their journal regularly.
Throw Out The Rule Book
Children and young adults often feel uncomfortable writing if they’re not confident with their spelling or grammar.
With this, it is important to remind them that the journal is for their eyes only. They don’t have to worry about what they write or how they write it.
It is also helpful to remind them that there is no ‘right’ way of journaling either.
Their journal may not be complete sentences. Alternatively, it could be one long sentence!
Hopefully, when your child knows that their words won’t be seen or criticised, they can really open up and express themselves in whatever way they choose to.
Go Beyond Words
As well as writing, a child may also benefit from doodling or drawing in their journal.
There are many cognitive benefits of doodling. For example, doodling can make it easier to recall information.
This may lead to more thoughts coming up for your child, which they can then further explore in their journal.
Doodling is also an incredibly calming activity. If your child is feeling particularly frazzled and overwhelmed, then doodling is proven to change your cognitive state.
This can help you to feel calmed and focused.
This works the same for adults as well as children!
Use The Journal As A Talking Tool
Once your child has journaled and made sense of their thoughts and feelings by putting them onto paper, they may feel ready to talk it through.
When your child finishes their journaling, ask them if they want to talk about it.
With this, you’ll want to take direction from the child.
They may not be ready to talk straight away, so let them come to you in their own time.
If they do want to talk, you may want to tread carefully. Children may not want to reveal their private thoughts.
It is important to be curious but appreciative of anything they do want to share.
Questions should be open, kind and refrain from judgement.
It is important to remember this is an opportunity for your child to share their own experience, not for you to share your opinion.
Using Journals For Discussion
Some questions that can help your child to open up about their journaling include:
- How do you feel now?
- How different did you feel before and after journaling?
- When would you like to talk about what you’ve written?
- What did you discover?
- How do you feel about the situation now you’ve had time to write about it?
- What else could help you?
- If you could wave a magic wand, what would you want to be different?
- How could you solve the situation?
- What would make you feel better?
Whilst it may be difficult to hold back if you can see a solution, it can be beneficial for your child to find their own solution.
You’re not there to fix the situation. Instead, your role is to offer support without any pressure.
By allowing your child to find their own route forward, you’re helping them to build resilience and emotional intelligence.
You’ll also be building a positive relationship with respect, listening and support.
Making The Most From Journaling
At Flourished Minds, the child is the centre of all that we do.
However, the transformational work we do is magnified when the child’s carers are involved too. This is why all the tips that we’re sharing apply just as well to adults.
Research shows that the act of journaling can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve memory and increase happiness levels – so why not try these for yourself?
We pride ourselves on our track record in helping children and teens open up, feel more confident about themselves and improve their emotional wellbeing.
Central to this is our ability to have open and solution-focused conversations filled with trust, compassion, and kindness.
If you’re worried about your child not opening up, feel something is bothering them and need further help, please get in touch.
Helping young people feel better about themselves is what we do!