Dealing Gently with Children and Teenagers


Confrontation generally results in winners and losers. Gentle, ongoing communication, on the other hand, tends to produce winners and winners. Here are some tips for ongoing communication with children.

1. Ask questions gently and cleverly.

If a child comes home from school looking sullen, and you want to avoid stock answers to stock questions like 'How was school today?' ('Don't know', 'Can't remember' etc) then it's a good idea to gently ask more specific questions. 'Did you make anything today?' or 'Who amazed you today?' often yield more detailed replies, along with, for younger children, 'Was anyone naughty today?' Asked about school as a whole children can shy away from the hugeness of the subject, just as you or I might if asked 'What happened at work today?' Where does one begin? Far better to pick out a confrontable detail -and then often the floodgates open and one gets a full narrative of the day's events.

2. Avoid heavy scenes.

Trying to get an answer to a question -even a sensible one- when a child is distraught usually only worsens the scene. Asking over and over for information when someone is in tears is not very workable. You'll often find that the person is desperately trying to tell you what you need to know but is choked up with emotion and is finding it impossible. Much better to calm the person down, ease their upset, and then wait for a timely moment to ask, preferably in a new way. Avoiding heaviness doesn't mean running away from important conversations: it means spotting what is workable and what isn't and acting accordingly.

3. Change the subject, distract and engage.

Sometimes getting to the bottom of an upset is best done by changing the subject altogether. A child's attention can usually be directed onto more positive things relatively easily, especially when they are younger. With things calmer and something else now absorbing the child's interest, a touchy subject can then be re-engaged in a healthier, more positive way. Why make things harder for the child or yourself by 'notching up the volume' on upsetting i