Parent Resource Center

Talking With Your Child About Tough Issues

Difficult subjects such as drug and alcohol use are hard to bring up, and kids often do their best to avoid talking about them. They may feel that the adult is lecturing them and may use their energy protecting themselves or their friends. As a result, youth often have difficulty listening or responding appropriately.

The following six-step process allows adults to communicate care and support and to be specific about issues that concern them.
I Care: Let the young person know that s/he is important to you and to others.
I See: Focus on specific behaviors or issues. What did you see or hear that caused you concern? Focus on the behavior rather than the person.
I Feel: Let him or her know how you feel about your concern. For example, "I feel worried."
Pause and Listen: Be prepared for silence, denials, anger, a sad or tragic story, or an emotional outpouring. Just listen without responding at this point.
I Want: Once you have heard the child's perspective, let him or her know what you would like to have happen.
I Will: Then, let the child know what you are prepared to do to support him or her.

Helpful Hints:
1. Consider the time and place. It is best to talk with a young person away from others.

2. Rehearse. This kind of dialogue is often uncomfortable for both parties. Practicing what you plan to say will help you maintain control. Also, anticipate the possible responses or questions that you may receive.

3. Leave the door open. This may be your time to talk, but not the young person's. Let the youth know you would be willing to talk some other time. REMEMBER: you are responsible for the process, not the outcome. Parents can share their concern and offer to help. However, the young person is ultimately responsible for his or her choices.

4. Know your limits. Be prepared with resources. Recognize when it may be appropriate to seek professional help.