Talking About Tough Times with your Child

Apr 28, 2020NCEA, Parent advice

It can be challenging to talk to your child about tough times, especially at a period like this everyone needs extra support. We are all exposed to many challenges at this time and it can be difficult to talk about the things that are out of our control. 

We can’t always control how our child interprets and gathers information, but there are things we can do to be their support in dealing with it. There are ways we can tackle the challenges at this time which will help our ability to support the ones we love. Discussing these challenges with your child’s and communicating how you can help during this abnormal time is an important skill to practice. We are all trying to work through this together and we can all share our different experiences and ideas on how to communicate during this tough time.

Emotional and Mental Well-being

During this time, there’s a lot of uncertainty and it can seem unclear about what the future might look like. This may mean you or your child is feeling stressed or anxious and it can be difficult to know how to cope with this. It can also feel just as difficult to discuss these feelings with your child. It is important to recognise that it is only natural to have uneasy feelings and emotions as a reaction to this time. Recognising how your child is reacting to this time emotionally and mentally can be a challenge, but talking with them will help understand how you can help their emotional and mental well being during this tough time. 

One of the biggest challenges is adjusting to a new working environment and being stuck at home. This may mean figuring out a new way of tackling how we deal with our emotions and wellbeing. For some, our routines have changed to working from home or having school online. Having awareness through communication is one way your child will understand you are there to support them.

What you can do:

It is important to wait until your child wants to discuss how they feel with you, but that you are also treating them like adults when they do speak with you. The way young adults are spoken to can fluctuate wildly between being treated as an adult, and also a child. 

Often, when young adults feel they are being spoken down to, or that they’re not being taken seriously, they’ll shut off. One reason for this is that they don’t feel they’re being listened to or fully acknowledged. 

In generating meaningful discussion about the situation, ask specific and open-ended questions such as:

  • How are you feeling about being stuck inside all day? 
  • Are you feeling more bored or tired than usual? 
  • Are your siblings distracting while you are trying to do schoolwork? 
  • Do you feel you have enough things to do at the moment?

You can bring up the current tough times or how they are feeling, but if they do not want to discuss it, then it’s important not to force the conversation onto them. Confronting a tough conversation with you may be a challenge for them, so let them feel comfortable first. It can help to be honest with them about how you are feeling at this time so they understand that they’re not alone.

Talk with them about solutions to their challenges. The ability to problem-solve during both this time and beyond is a great asset. 

When problem-solving with your child, here are some steps you can take together:

  • Identify the issue: Ensure that it is made really clear. Also, bear in mind that you and your child may identify different challenges at play.
  • Understand where they’re coming from: To be able to best advise your child, it’s good to try and have an understanding of their perspective on the issue.
  • Come up with some possible solutions: Now that everyone is on the same page, it’s time to brainstorm some things that could resolve or help the situation.
  • Vet your ideas: Weigh up the pros and cons of each of the possible solutions. Are there any that could be used together?
  • Choose a strategy: This may be a combination of solutions or just one area to work on. It may be good to also select a backup option if the first strategy isn’t as good in practice.

It’s good to be writing down all of these steps as you go, especially if you need to return to it later, or further refine ideas.

Being able to help your child problem-solve is a great way to empower your child to tackle the challenges they are facing. Additionally, it is a skill that will cultivate resilience in your child that will benefit them even after the lockdown.

Social Media

Social media is one of the main tools people are using to keep in contact and connect with others, as well as staying informed on the situation. This is fantastic to maintain meaningful connections with important people in our lives. 

However, there is a danger in becoming oversaturated with negative content. With more free time at the moment, your child may be using social media more than usual. This means continuous updates from the news, right at their fingertips. 

Naturally, everyone wants the latest updates to have a better understanding of what is going on. It’s human instinct to want to focus on a problem and assess it for safety. It is our way of being prepared to act when we feel threatened. We all just want to feel safe at the moment. However, in this situation, it can quickly become overwhelming and overload our brains with negativity.

What you can do:

How do we tackle discussing the news and social media? A starting place would be to have an awareness of how your child is digesting the news

If your child is constantly updating themselves on the situation, it may be a sign they are feeling anxious about the situation. If they primarily staying updated from social media, there’s the risk of misinformation. Additionally, they may feel an emotional over-exposure from seeing COVID-19 saturated over almost every screen we see.

It might be difficult around this time for your child to stay informed without becoming overwhelmed or misinformed. 

Discussion is an important factor in being able to gauge how your child is being affected by the news and social media at this time. Even if it’s just reminding your child that we are all taking it one minute at a time, that you are there for them and to take care of themselves. 

It’s natural that your child will be getting information about the situation from social media. Rather than limit the intake of information, discuss what your child understands with them, and their perspective on the situation. Allowing them to speak their minds is an effective way to see what they understand, and how they’re feeling.

It might also be helpful to mention that not everyone’s lockdown lifestyle is going to be the same. It could help just to remind them that their newly-adopted lifestyle doesn’t have to look like other people’s, like what they may be seeing on social media. Your child understands that social media is only one narrow perception of people’s lives, but this can be a good reminder at this time. 


Just like how adults are trying to navigate working from home, students are trying to do the same thing. Your child might be going through similar challenges as you, but It’s important to take into consideration how your child is learning to adapt to a new way of doing school online. This might mean supporting your child by considering their workload and how their schoolwork has been given to them. 

Some schools are opting to reduce students’ workloads, assigning work in advance so students have continuous work, or using another method again. Ask about how their school work is being adapted and how you can help with these changes or new challenges (the problem-solving list above is great for this!) 

What you can do:

Maybe for your child, it’s about finding a new routine to manage their workload. With that in mind, it is crucial to acknowledge that because of these abnormal times, we can’t place a normal routine into our lives easily. This includes a normal school or study routine. We are all trying to go through this pandemic together, so replicating a school day may not seem like the highest priority to your child. 

In discussing your child’s schoolwork with them, you could ask:

  • What have your teachers let you know about your classes?
  • Do you feel like you know what you’re doing in class?
  • Are there any subjects you’re concerned about?
  • How much work do you think you need to do outside of class?

Sometimes, having these kinds of discussion will force them to think about their learning, and reflect on how they’re currently sitting. You don’t need to have all of the answers for them, and directing them to places that can help them (such as their teachers or school) will better ensure they get the right instruction.

While schoolwork may not be the highest priority at this time for your child, it’s important that they’re engaging with it at some level. Having regular chats about how they are finding their learning will help keep it present in their minds and more inclined to problem-solve around any challenges they face.

Round off

We all need support and want to keep those around us safe. When isolated, communicating is one of the ways we can show this support. Talk to your child about their emotions and how they are doing mentally, how they are using social media, and how they are coping with their schoolwork. 

The current climate is a challenging discussion, especially with your child, but It is an important one to have nonetheless.

Helpful Resources

Kati Morton is a licensed therapist who makes helpful mental health videos. This one is specifically talking about COVID-19.

The Washington Post made a video talking with mental health experts on how to deal with anxiety at this time.


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