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Building Bridges: How to Help Your Child Open Up and Share

As parents, we all want to connect deeply with our children and understand what’s going on in their hearts and minds. But let’s be honest: Sometimes, it feels like cracking a secret code, especially with kids who keep things bottled up. 

Every child is unique, and their personality and temperament play a role in how they communicate. So, how can you create a space for your child to feel comfortable sharing their feelings? 

Alyssa Bowman, LMFT, a mental health counselor with Banner Health, helps us understand these differences and shares some simple strategies for helping your child open up and share.

Understanding your child’s personality and communication style

Just like adults, children have their own personality traits that influence how they communicate. Some children are naturally more outgoing and talkative, while others are shy and reserved. 

The introvert

Children who tend to be more introverted often watch a situation unfold before expressing a thought or idea.

“They also tend to dislike small talk but will engage in deeper conversations more easily,” Bowman said. “They prefer one-on-one or small groups compared to larger groups. They usually find that being alone gives them energy.”

The extrovert

Extroverted children will often seek out opportunities to connect with others and will often be the ones to start conversations. 

“They gain energy from being with others and are often more comfortable in the spotlight,” Bowman said. 

Understanding your child’s personality can give you insight into how they prefer to communicate and what approaches work best for them. 

“For example, communicating with an introverted child may mean setting up a time for one-on-one conversation that gets to the heart of the issue or goes deep fast with space to process throughout the conversation,” Bowman said. “For extroverted children, you can often start a conversation quickly and use the energy of the relationship to keep the conversation flowing.”

Possible barriers to opening up

Children face all sorts of roadblocks when it comes to spilling their guts to their parents. These barriers can vary depending on your child’s age, temperament and past experiences. 

Some common barriers include:

  • Fear of judgment: Children may worry that their parents will react negatively to what they have to say, leading them to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves.
  • Lack of trust: Children may be hesitant to share if they don’t feel they can trust their parents to listen and understand without jumping to conclusions or criticizing them.
  • Difficulty expressing emotions: Some children may struggle to put their feelings into words, making it hard for them to communicate well with their parents.
  • Peer pressure: As children get older, they may be influenced by their friends and peers to keep certain things hidden from their parents.
  • Not feeling heard or validated: Children may refrain from sharing if they feel like their thoughts and feelings are not taken seriously or acknowledged by parents.
  • Parents don’t have time: Children may feel discouraged from opening up if they perceive that their parents are too busy or preoccupied to listen to them.

Creating a safe space for communication

As parents, there are several things you can do to create a safe and supportive environment that encourages your child to open up and share with you:

Create opportunities for communication: Spend quality time (distraction-free) each day to talk with your child, whether during family meals, bedtime or a daily 10-minute 1-on-1 check-in. 

“I often find car rides (when you are not looking at each other but are in the same place at the same time) to be some of the best places to have deep conversations,” Bowman said. 

Let your child know they can talk to you about anything, anytime, no matter how big or small the issue. “Let them know that sometimes what they say might make you sad or upset but that they can’t do or say anything that will keep you from loving them,” Bowman said.

Learn their world from their perspective: Find out what they are into, what they like about the people they surround themselves with, what they watch on TV, what they listen to, what their days look like at school, what their opinions are, what they love about life and what makes life hard. 

“To get a conversation going, I encourage parents and children to share a high and low, a celebration or point of gratitude and a goal,” Bowman said. Some other examples of ways to get conversations going include:

  • Tell me about some of the funniest things you saw at school today.
  • What are your thoughts about … this song, that movie, what he/she/they said, what you saw, etc.?
  • Tell me about some things that make you happy. What about sad/mad/scared?
  • What is your favorite part of being in this family? What are some ways we can do better as a family?

Lead by example: Show your child that it’s okay to express emotions and talk about difficult topics by being honest and open with them yourself. Share your own thoughts and feelings with them in a respectful, nonjudgmental and age-appropriate way.

Listen without judgment: When your child comes to you with something to say, listen attentively without interrupting and passing judgment. Let them know that you value their thoughts and feelings, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. 

Validate their emotions: Let them know that it’s okay to feel whatever they're feeling and that you support them. 

“Repeat back what you have heard your child say and check back in with them to make sure you got it right,” Bowman said. “Explore their thoughts and opinions and don’t just argue back with what they’ve said. Find points within their thoughts to validate them as people.”

Be patient: Give your child time to process thoughts and feelings before expecting them to open up to you. Avoid pressuring or making them feel they must talk before they’re ready.

Respect their privacy: While it’s important to encourage open communication, it’s also important to respect your child’s boundaries and privacy. Avoid prying or interrogating them if they’re not ready to talk. Give them space when they need it.

Red flags to watch out for

While it’s normal for children to have their ups and downs, the following red flags might indicate more significant issues that require professional help: 

  • Sudden changes in behavior or mood (your usually happy child becomes really sad or angry).
  • A felt sense of needing to “walk on eggshells” around your child.
  • Changes in sleep, eating habits and friendships.
  • Suddenly withdrawing and not wanting to be a part of things that used to be interesting to your child.
  • Changes in play (from care and compassion to violence or anger).
  • Changes in the family system (divorce, death, relocation).
  • Talking about wanting to be dead, harming themselves or other people with a plan in place to do so.

Don’t shy away from asking your child questions if something seems off, and don’t be afraid to be direct in your questions. 

“For example, ‘Have you thought about killing yourself, and do you have a way that you’d do that?’ will not give your child ideas or make them more likely to commit suicide,” Bowman said. “Direct questions and a calm response from you will speak volumes to a struggling child.”

Don’t be afraid to contact a qualified behavioral health specialist, such as a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist with experience with children and adolescents, if you are concerned about a behavior, conversation or pattern you observe in your child.

If your child is thinking about hurting themselves or has tried to, it’s important to act right away. If it’s an emergency, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or text “TALK” to 741741 for help from people who know how to keep your child safe. 


Helping your child open up and share with you requires patience, understanding and a willingness to create a safe and supportive environment. By respecting your child’s personality and communication style, addressing possible barriers and creating opportunities for conversation, you can strengthen your relationship with your child and support their emotional well-being for years to come. 

Remember, you’re not alone. There are lots of people and resources that can help you and your child along the way. Speak with a behavioral health professional or a Banner Health specialist

For more parenting tips, check out:

Behavioral Health Children's Health Parenting