Having a conversation
Whether you’re talking to a group or an individual, there are some general principles that will help you discuss sensitive subjects with children and young people.
Help them feel comfortable
Acknowledge that the topic isn’t easy to talk about but explain why it’s important to talk about it.
Show you’re listening
Encourage children to talk openly and make it clear that you value their opinions. You could set ground rules, such as not interrupting and respecting other people’s points of view.
Give them time
Allow children to set their own pace - don’t push them to say more than they want to. They may need time to process certain topics – so make sure they know they can come back to you another time if they need to.
Avoid displaying strong emotions such as shock or embarrassment in response to something a child or young person says. This might discourage them from sharing their experiences with you.
Be open and honest
Encourage children and young people to ask questions. Answer them as honestly as possible, whilst taking into consideration their age and emotional maturity.
Get your facts straight
If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so – don’t provide young people with information that’s incorrect. You could look for the answer together, recommend where they can find information or research and share what you have found next time you meet.
If you’re talking about something like coronavirus where the situation may change quickly, explain this and let children know how to stay updated as things progress.
> Read more about how you can support children’s mental health during coronavirus
Use the right language
Make sure children understand the terminology associated with the topic and that it is age-appropriate. Avoid using euphemisms. Look at the language used on resources developed by and for children such as the Childline website.
If you're talking about a sensitive subject like mental health, it's important to use the right language so that children can understand you and you can understand them.
> Find out more about talking to children and young people about their mental health
Be clear about confidentiality
It’s important that children feel able to share their experiences with you. But if you have any concerns about their wellbeing you must make a report following your child protection procedures. Never promise to keep things a secret and explain that you have a responsibility to tell people who can help.
> Find out more about information sharing
Put support in place
Following your conversation, children may have further questions or want to talk more about the issue. Make sure they know who they can talk to.
Think about how to let parents know what you’ve been talking about, so that they can provide further support at home. Children and young people can also contact Childline if they need support afterwards.
Consider setting some time aside as a follow-up session to give children the opportunity to discuss their thoughts and feelings.
Recognise the signs
Talking about difficult or upsetting topics might make some children think about other things that are happening in their lives.
Make sure you are equipped to recognise the signs that a child you are talking to may have experienced abuse, and know how to respond.
> Watch our animation on responding to a child’s disclosure of abuse
> Learn about best practices for recognising and responding to abuse