How to speak to your parents about touchy subjects: expert tips on everything from using the right tone to picking the right time

How to speak to your parents about touchy subjects: expert tips on everything from using the right tone to picking the right time

Here are a psychologist’s advice for people who find it hard to talk to their parents about sensitive issues

Sometimes we have to admit that speaking up to parents on sensitive issues is hard. From dating to studying overseas, there are lots of issues that we have to discuss with our parents. There are, says American psychologist Dr Andrew Adler, a few things that can be done to get the conversation rolling.

Before you start

Try to talk about everyday stuff before going on to a more serious topic. Talk about silly things you have done with your friends at school, or simply about the dishes you are enjoying at dinner (don’t forget to thank the person who prepared them; he/she will appreciate it!)

Finding something trivial to chat about is important before starting on the controversial stuff.

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You could share something one of your teachers said, tell your parents how much you love your pet, or mention how well your younger sister has done in music.

Talk about how are you doing at school these days. Small talk can keep your relationship strong and comfortable – then your parents will be in a good mood when the time comes to bring up the difficult topics.

Know what you want

Think about what you want from your parents. Do you need some help? Do you want them to grant you permission to do something? Or do you want them to listen to you?

You may try to start like this: “Mum, I have to tell you something. Can you listen to me?” Or, “Hey Dad, I would really like to go on a trip with my friends. Can I tell you more about it?”

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Understand your emotions

It’s natural to be nervous when talking about serious and sensitive matters. Know how you feel at the moment and express that to your parents. Being understood is better than letting your emotions or thoughts stop you from talking. For example, you could say: “Can you listen to me and help me? It may be a little embarrassing though.”

Find the right timing

Talk to your mum or dad when he or she is not busy. Ask, “Can we talk? Is now a good time?” It can be after dinner, before bed, or during a walk. If it’s hard to find a good time, say, “I need to talk to you. When would be a good time?”

It’s not a good idea to talk about something important when both your parents are busy. Try to finish off all your tasks before talking to them. That would make the experience a whole lot better.

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Your attitude

Be honest. Be calm. Tell your parents what is happening without hiding anything. Don’t get angry if they turn down your request.

Show that you respect them. It will show them that you are humble and want their advice – you are not demanding that your parents do something for you.

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“Try to talk about the topic in a calm and respectful way,” Adler, who works with teenagers, says.

“No matter what, do not become angry. If you lose your temper, your parents may become angry themselves, or they won’t take you seriously.


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“It is also very important to remember that, no matter how calm you are, your parents still may become mad at you. Try to remain as calm as possible. If they are still mad, come back and talk to them another time.

“Also,” Adler adds, “tell your parents that you are glad that they are listening to you. Everyone likes to be respected, including your parents.”

Good luck!

Edited by M. J. Premaratne


Andrew Adler, Ph.D., Advisor
Licensed Psychologist (US)
Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, Yale University
andrew@adlerfamilycentre.com.hk
+852 9386 5104

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