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Talking with your parents

Having a hard time talking with your parents about an important issue? Check out these tips.

Mother and daughter talking to each other on floor

Talking with parents isn’t always easy

Even if you get along with your parents, it doesn’t mean that conversations always go well.

There are lots of things you might need to talk with your parents about including your mental health, sex and relationships, situations you need help with or fights with friends. There could be a million things you might need to talk to your parents about!

But at the same time it can be hard to open up to them. Maybe you’ve had a bad experience trying to talk to them in the past. Or you might not have the words to express what you’re thinking or how you feel.

The good news is we’ve got some tips for you that might make it easier!

I’m afraid they’ll…

Whatever it is that you’re worried might happen - you’re not alone. Lots of other young people have trouble talking with their parents too sometimes.

We’re not saying it’s all your parents fault. Parenting is a tough gig and no parent is perfect. But as you grow older and start to become more independent it means the way your parents relate to you changes (or not).

Here are some of the common reasons why it may be hard to talk with your parents:

They won’t listen or hear you out

You don’t know how they’ll react

They’ll get sad or be disappointed in you

You don’t want to bother them with your problems

One or both of your parents are hard to approach

They don’t believe you or your side of the story 

One or both of your parents are part of the problem

They might get angry and yell or argue with you

They say they’ll make the time to talk but they don’t

They won’t take you seriously and they’ll dismiss what you say

They’ll offer advice when you just wanted somebody to listen

They’ll ask you a bunch of questions you don’t know the answers to

What your parents might be feeling

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that your parents think and feel things just like you! They’re human too and they might try really hard to support you but it’s not quite working. Maybe they don’t know how best to respond to you.

Here are some things your parents might be feeling when you start talking to them about something really important or something that’s upsetting you: 

Fear or worry
Sadness
Guilt
Frustration
Confusion
Protective of you

Even if it feels like you’re not making progress, talking with your parents is usually better than not saying anything at all.

Be prepared for these three common responses

Parents usually love and care about you very deeply and this clouds their thinking and how they react to you.

Remember a time when you loved a person so much that it hurt? And if you saw them in trouble or in pain you felt upset for them? Parents can feel this way about you too.

Because of this they may respond to you out of their own emotions.

Problem: They might minimise your problems. Sometimes parents might think that what you’re going through isn’t that bad or that it’s just a part of life’s ‘ups and downs’. Because of this they don’t really take what you say seriously.
Try this: What your parents say about life being full of ‘ups and downs’ might be true, but if you think it’s more than that, then explain what you’re struggling with and how it’s affecting your life by giving some examples.

Problem: They make it about them. Parents might start reflecting on the part they play in your life and might blame themselves for your problems. They could say “I’m such a bad parent. I must have let you down for things to get so bad”.
Try this: Rather than talking about what your parents need to change, tell them you need help to make some changes in your own life. Talk about how they might help you do that. Try to focus the conversation on what you need to get better or feel better.

Problem: They might guilt-trip you. From the outside you seem to have everything they believe you need to be happy. For example, when you say you’re not happy and might be depressed they could say “You can’t be unhappy! You have a good life, a job and lots of friends!”
Try this: Explain that even though you have a ‘good life’, a job and lots of friends, you’re still unhappy and this is a sign that something isn’t right and you need help.

Having a great conversation with your parents

While every family and parent is different, there are some things you can do when talking to your parents to help the conversation stay on track.

Try these tips to help things go more smoothly:

  • Plan what you’re going to say. Think it through in your mind or try writing it down beforehand.
  • Try to do it when you feel calmer or less worried, upset, or angry. This means you have the best chance of getting your message across clear and calm way. If you can’t settle your emotions you might need to start the conversation anyway rather than waiting for the ‘right time’ (which might never come!).
  • Stick to one or two main points as this will make it easier to keep the conversation on track.
  • Rehearse the conversation with a friend or a counsellor so you’re more prepared.
  • Find a time to talk that’s good for everybody. Try not to do it when you or your parents are busy with other things. Having a good conversation about something important means that you and your parents need to give it your full attention.
  • Choose a private place where you won’t get interrupted and you feel safe to talk.
  • Have a friend or sibling by your side to support you if you’re really nervous.
  • It’s ok to take a break if things get too intense. Remember, you might need to have more than one conversation over several days or weeks if it’s a really important issue and there’s no easy solution to your problem. Seek out some support from a friend or a counsellor if you need to.
  • Don’t feel you have to have all the answers. It’s ok to feel confused or unsure. If your parents ask you lots of questions you can simply say “I don’t know yet” and then together you can figure it out.

Starting the conversation

Often the hardest part of a difficult conversation is starting one!

Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to say first because emotions are running high and you’re worried how your parents will react.

Start by saying what you need from them eg. “I need to tell you about a problem I’m having and get your advice” or “I have this situation that’s really bothering me and I just need somebody to listen and be there for me”.

Check out our Expressing Your Feelings article for more tips on how to open up and talk about it.

If starting a face to face conversation is too hard then try writing it down in an email or text to break the ice.

Everybody needs support and help sometimes

It’s ok to need your parent’s help and to ask for it – we hope these tips can help you start the conversation.

If you think there’s no way you can talk with your parents about what you’re going through then give us a call and talk to a counsellor about it. We’re here to listen without judgement and help you find a way through it. Contact us by phone, start a WebChat or send us an email today.

This content was last reviewed 21/06/2018

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