Navigating the maze of early adulthood comes with its fair share of challenges, from the stress of exams and first jobs to the intricacies of relationships. For many, this is also a period marked by an exploration of identity and a heightened awareness of mental health. While it’s important for young adults to foster independence, the support of parents can make a monumental difference. But how can parents create a safe space for their kids to open up?
“Parents have two primary jobs when it comes to keeping their kids safe and making them feel safe. The first is to protect them from harm. The second is to avoid becoming the source of fear and threat.” ~ Inspired by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
The Importance of Open Dialogue
Remember that, even in adulthood, the parent-child relationship is instrumental in shaping a person’s emotional and psychological well-being. The need for parental support doesn’t magically vanish after high school graduation; if anything, it simply evolves. Issues like mental health struggles are often stigmatized, making it all the more important to have someone safe to talk to. But this relationship doesn’t start developing when your child becomes an adult. For many teens, that safe person is—or could be—you.
When a teen opens up, actively listen by eliminating distractions and making eye contact. Avoid immediate judgments or solutions, as this may discourage future sharing. I’m sure you are more than aware of the frustration that can rise within you if your partner, friend, or family member is trying to find the solution to a problem that you did not ask for help with. Listen to your child, and offer them a space where they can rant out their frustrations to you. The aim is to understand, not to solve.
“What does it mean to be present? The present parent is available and lets their teen know they are there from them. They are open to discussing anything, without judgment or control. The present parent can offer advice or solutions but not be attached to their teen following it.” ~ Lainie Liberti – Seen, Heard & Understood
Be Open Yourself
Creating a safe space isn’t a one-way street. Parents should also feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. This reciprocal exchange builds trust. That said, be cautious not to turn the conversation into a session about your struggles. But if they see that you are comfortable with sharing some more vulnerable details of your experiences, they are more likely to trust you with theirs.
Choose the Right Time and Place
Sensitive conversations are not to be had on the fly. Opt for a setting where both of you are comfortable and free from distractions. Your child is more likely to open up when they feel physically and emotionally safe. Often when I have these sorts of discussions with my parents, it is during time in the car, on either short errand runs or longer drives.
Maintain an Open-Door Policy
Let your young adult know that your door is always open, whether they need advice, a listening ear, or just a safe space to be themselves. The point is not to press them for information but to let them know you’re available whenever they’re ready to talk. Give them the autonomy to approach you on their own terms. If your child knows this, they are far more likely to turn to you when they encounter uncomfortable situations and feel as though they may need a guiding hand.
Create an Atmosphere of Non-Judgment
It’s easy to say you won’t judge, but harder to put into practice. Strive for unconditional acceptance. Whether it’s an uncomfortable confession or a struggle they’re experiencing, your role is to be supportive. Remember, if they’ve come to you, it’s because they need a safe harbor. From sharing a funny (and sometimes dumb) experience I’ve had with a friend, to ranting my frustrations about a certain situation, I know that I can do that without a negative judgment coming back from my parents.
“If children feel safe, they can take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, learn to trust, share their feelings, and grow.” ~ Alfie Kohn
While there will be times when my parents may have to explain how I could be in the wrong, or point out something from a different perspective, I can tell you now that it’s far more beneficial to have a relationship with your child where they feel that they can openly discuss something with you. Even if that something may be uncomfortable to talk about, wouldn’t you rather they trust you, instead of feeling as though they need to hide from you?
Taking everything into account
The time between becoming a tween, and journeying into early adulthood, is a time of rapid change and self-discovery, often accompanied by challenges that can benefit from parental guidance. Creating a safe space for your child to open up about topics like mental health isn’t just about saying the right things; it’s about fostering an environment of trust, openness, and non-judgment.
In doing so, you’re not just solving immediate issues; you’re laying the groundwork for a lifetime of open, honest communication. And isn’t that what every parent-child relationship should aim for?