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Talking to teenagers about feelings

Photo: It's not always easy to get young people to open up about their feelings.

“We schedule in time for worrying. Hooriya will text me and I’ll say, ‘We’ll talk about this at 8pm tonight.’ Then she’ll write it down in the diary and we don’t worry about it for now. Often what seemed massive then feels a little bit smaller later on.”

Bobby is mum to Hooriya (15)

As children grow up and gain independence, it’s natural for them to want a bit of privacy from mum and dad. Deaf young people are no different. But it can be tricky to tell whether a teenager is spending more time in their room because they want more privacy, or if they’re becoming withdrawn.

For parents, it’s sometimes hard to strike the right balance between giving young people the tools and space they need to become independent while also making sure they are safe and healthy, both physically and mentally. Adolescence is a difficult time for any young person, and being deaf can make things harder. That’s why it’s especially important to let your child know that they can talk to you about how they’re feeling.

Below are some of our tips on how to talk to your deaf teenager or young person about their feelings.

Family life is busy, and it can be difficult for young people to find the right time to speak about what’s on their mind. Be aware that, whereas hearing teenagers are more likely to open up in situations where they are not making eye contact, such as in the car or while watching TV, deaf children may find it harder to communicate in these environments. Get into the habit of dedicating time to speak with your child alone once or twice a week, perhaps while doing something they enjoy, such as painting, walking the dog, or gardening. Using this time to talk about your own feelings and experiences might encourage your child to be honest about theirs.

Imagine you’re holding a balloon at arms’ length. It might feel easy for the first minute, but after an hour, even though the balloon itself is light, your arm will have begun to hurt. Eventually, you won’t be able to hold up your arm at all.

Stress and anxiety work in the same way. Although a problem might seem minor, when we worry about it for a long time, it builds up in our minds to become a more serious problem. If your child opens up to you about something you consider minor, try not to trivialise the issue. Put yourself in your child’s shoes, show that you share their concern, and encourage them to find a solution for themselves. Taking your child seriously will help them to be honest with you in future.

If you’re discussing a subject which makes you uncomfortable, the chances are your child will notice. Acknowledging that the subject is hard for you to talk about helps your child to understand that it’s normal to feel a bit nervous sometimes. Try to make it clear that this doesn’t mean you don’t want to talk about the topic.

If your child is having a particular problem, for example at school, you might feel tempted to pick up the phone and call their teacher to resolve it. This can alienate your child and make them feel that others are making assumptions and decisions about their life, which can ultimately cause the young person to withdraw. If you need to speak to a professional about your child’s wellbeing, try to set up an appointment where the young person can also contribute themselves, with an interpreter present if necessary. If it is not possible for your child to be involved in the conversation, make sure they are aware of what you’ll be talking about, and have agreed in advance what you will and will not disclose to the professional.

Deaf young people may have less access to incidental learning than their hearing peers, which can mean they miss out on learning important lessons about topics such as puberty and periods. Try to make sure that your child has an age-appropriate understanding of subjects like sex and relationships by talking clearly and directly about these topics, and making it clear that they can ask you any questions they might have. SignHealth offers videos about such issues as consent and sexting in British Sign Language (BSL) and subtitled English which may be helpful. Watch the videos yourself before sharing to check that they are appropriate for your child.