What to Say When You Don’t Know WHAT to Say to Your Kids

What to Say When You Don’t Know WHAT to Say to Your Kids

Sometimes, our kids come to us with big problems. Big worries. Big confessions or difficult questions. 

In a perfect world, we would have all of the answers. We’d know exactly how to respond and we’d say it with the ideal inflection and corresponding body language. But, in reality, big topics often turn into disastrous conversations because we jump in with a solution, misunderstand, or blow the issue out of proportion.

answering kids questions

Parenting is full of gray areas — some of which show up packed into random questions, comments and remarks from our kids! Instead of being worried about doing or saying the wrong thing, here are some tips to give you some time to process before you respond.

What do you say to your child when you don’t know what to say? How can you best answer difficult questions? 

  • Say nothing: It may seem counter-productive to stay silent, but sometimes, being present with our kids is enough. When we’re less focused on finding a response, our kids will often open up more, continuing to explain their thoughts and feelings (something we may not have heard if we interrupted!).  
  • That sounds ____: Listen closely to your child, watch their body language, and fill in the blank with an emotion they may be experiencing or may have experienced at the time of the event. You may not be right, but your child may correct you, giving you a more accurate picture of what they were feeling.
  • Tell me more: Encourage your child to continue the conversation by asking for more details or by saying, “Then what happened?” Focus on hearing more of the story instead of jumping in to judge their actions or offer a solution. Sometimes, there is more to the story if we remain patient.  
  • Thank you for sharing: If you tend to respond with frustration or anger, work on keeping these emotions in check. Take a deep breath. You do not have to respond immediately, especially in situations that catch you off guard, involve big emotions, or require more thought before you reply.
  • How can I help?: Often parents assume that their children come to them for advice or solutions. However, many kids just want their parents to be present and listen. If your child seems to be at a loss for what to do next, ask, “Would you like to know my thoughts or do you just want me to listen?”

Next time your child stumps you with a big problem or concern, slow down the conversation using one (or more!) of these responses.

Slowing down the conversation will give you time to really listen to your child and think about what they need from you. You might be surprised with the outcome!


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Nicole is a mom to 3 young girls, a Parent Coach, and Licensed Therapist in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the author of *Positive Parenting for Imperfect Families*. Nicole helps parents connect with their children, feel confident in their parenting, and find positive alternatives to punishment. Learn about online Parent Coaching and read parenting tips on her blog, ImperfectFamilies. Sign up for Nicole's newsletter here.

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