July 5, 2021

Ask Amy - My Kid Just Doesn't Want To Talk About It

Some kids are more expressive than others. And a child’s ability to discuss feelings might be frustrated by their vocabulary or emotional maturity. How can we encourage kids to open up? Is there a point at which we should be concerned if they don’t?

When we have a child who chooses to withdraw and "not talk about it," rather than unpack his disappointment, is that a reason for concern? This week's question comes from Facebook:

When my seven year old gets upset, he refuses to talk to us even to describe the event that led to his reaction. He seems to prefer to process things internally. And so his immediate reaction is to shut down and say, I don't want to talk.

My spouse and I have both made a strong and conscious effort to validate his feelings and to be open and available for the times he does want to talk, but more often than not, my son just prefers to bury the experience and move on without talking about it.

Sometimes this means him concluding after one bad experience that an activity is horrible and he will never try it again. Therapy is probably a direction we are heading in. But do you think we should start with the school social worker?

Some kids, like some adults, are more emotionally expressive than others. That a 7-year-old processes internally is not necessarily a bad thing. It really depends on the intensity of the precipitating events, their frequency, plus how often you see these reactions from your child. If your kid is spending half his time at home in tears, then you do need to encourage opening up. If he's obviously expressing unhappiness, frustration, anger– expressions of bottled-up emotion– then yes, that is something that has to be dealt with.

But a seven-year-old's ability to express himself might be frustrated by his own vocabulary and emotional maturity. Some kids benefit from drawing pictures of their feelings. As parents, the best approach may be to talk, in his presence, about. the things that you and your spouse do to move past disappointment and hurt feelings. You don't need to draw a direct line from your own experiences to what you're asking your son to do in order for the point to come across.

That a child has one "bad experience," and then displays refusal of what's not easy or comfortable, is also very common and developmentally appropriate. If there's actual panic at the notion of going back to a place or activity– if there are tantrums or bedwetting other forms of acting out– that could be a sign of anxiety that your child needs help with. But while frustration tolerance is something you might need to work on with your child, it's probably not something to be deeply concerned about at this stage. Keep an eye on it, push back against it, and over time you will hopefully see some growth in these areas.

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