Conversation Tips

How to Talk Heart-to-Heart

Some questions are easy to ask your kids — how was school, what’d you have for lunch, is your homework done? Other questions may not be that simple.

Talking with your kids about alcohol, drugs, mental health, and risky behaviors may be tough. But these are some of the most important conversations you’ll have with lasting impact.

These heart-to-heart conversations are full of meaningful discussions on important topics that lead to mutual understanding and common ground for families. Here are 12 tips to help you create the right atmosphere, manage emotions, and create a safe space for everyone to be involved and chat.

Note: These tips are not a checklist, but simply guidelines. Tailor your conversation to what works best for your family and your kids.

Tip 1: Make Sure You’re Both Ready

Start by letting them know you want to talk. No surprises! This can also help you come from a calmer place, so you can model appropriate ways to communicate.

Tip 2: Look for Organic Opportunities to Bring It Up

Not sure how to start the conversation? Use the things around you! When the topic comes up in movies or on TV, that’s a natural way to approach it.

Tip 3: Prepare Ahead of Time

Chat with your spouse, coworker, or friend. Parents can feel nervous about hard conversations, just like kids. That’s okay! Practicing how you want to communicate helps.

Here is a free downloadable Hard Conversation Worksheet to help you get ready.

Tip 4: Find a Neutral Space

Choose a space where constant eye contact isn’t needed — like the car! Start fresh without assumptions. Simply ask, “What do you know about this?” or “How do you feel about this?”

Tip 5: Be Patient

Give your kids the time they need to say what they want to say. Practice active listening and repeat what you hear. This ensures you’re understanding their perspective.

Tip 6: Be Honest and Sincere

A true heart-to-heart conversation requires trust. Kids recognize when others are not being open and honest, and often close down as a result.

Tip 7: Set Boundaries

If either of you pulls in past issues, calmly state that you want to first focus on the topic at hand. You can discuss other issues later.

Tip 8: Validate Feelings and Be Empathetic

Kids see the world differently than adults and meeting them where they are will help them open up. Avoid interrupting and shaming.

Tip 9: Use “I Feel…” Statements

When discussing the topic, use “I feel…” statements and avoid “You always…” or “You never…” statements. Gently guide your kids to do the same.

Tip 10: Acknowledge Their Feelings

Kids often see issues as a bigger deal than adults do. Acknowledge their feelings and help them build perspective. Social issues in ninth grade may seem overwhelming, but it changes. Give them hope!

Tip 11: Don’t Overreact

Try to keep your cool for any stress-induced drama. They may need to stomp out and go to their room for a while. Calmly let them know you’ll return to talking when they are in a better place.

Tip 12: Follow Up

You may be surprised – many kids, after time to process, feel relieved after a heart-to-heart conversation. It can also build deeper trust between you.

Make a Plan Before You Talk

“Preparation is the key to success” applies to heart-to-heart conversations. You don’t need to write out a full script (see tip 3 above!) but you should feel ready for it. Use this free downloadable worksheet to create your plan today.

When you finish this worksheet, you’ll have:

  • A goal of the who, what, and when for this heart-to-heart talk
  • A list of allies and how they can support you
  • A location for this conversation to take place
  • Steps to follow up on your chat

See Examples of Heart-to-Heart Talks

Families have been having heart-to-heart conversations for years. Find inspiration from these success stories.

Tips, Tools & Resources

If you’re looking for more tips on how to have hard conversations, you’ve come to the right place. There are resources below for you to use to help kids live long, happy, and healthy lives.

This resource-rich site also features ways for you to easily find local support, contact us and learn more about the Region V Prevention Network.

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