Parenting with Dr. Ramey: What your kids are really afraid of

Something I say to kids typically strikes terror in their hearts: “Maybe that’s something you should discuss with your mom and dad.” My advice is often met with fear and rejection.

Within the emotional security of my office, children learn to trust and reveal what they are really thinking and feeling. They don’t have to worry about being punished or hurting my feelings.

They freely talk about their perceptions of not being good enough to live up to the expectations of their parents. Others discuss their resentment towards siblings or intense feelings of loneliness. Kids are acutely aware of marital problems, and they share the terrible anxiety of wondering if and when their parents will separate.

More Parenting with Dr. Ramey: Predicting our kids’ futures

Adolescents typically discuss their fears about fitting in and figuring out relationships. Self-doubts overwhelm them, even if they appear well-adjusted and confident. Their outer persona rarely matches their inner life.

I’m glad that these kids feel safe to discuss such issues in therapy, but my job is to make myself unnecessary. I coach kids how to get support from others rather than to develop a dependency on a therapist.

Why are kids so afraid of being real with their parents?

1. My parents won't understand. Many kids feel it's a waste of time to talk with you because you'll interrupt them and tell them they are wrong. You talk more than you listen. Growing up today is very different from when you were a child. Stop talking about your experiences. Try to understand their world.

RELATED: 7 ways to connect with your child.

2. I'll get in trouble. Kids are fearful they'll get punished if they say certain things to you. Here's the dilemma: If they tell you that they smoked pot or cheated or an exam, what would you do? You want to encourage their openness, but at some point you also have to correct their misbehavior. Those rules don't apply to a therapy session.

3. You'll think I'm bad. Your children love you. They are fearful that by being honest, you'll realize they are not always what they appear. They don't want to disappoint you and lose your love.

4. I don't want to hurt your feelings. Kids don't want to upset you. If they talk to you about how your marital arguments cause them incredible anxiety, you might start crying and get upset.

The good news is that when kids gradually open up to their parents about some small issues, they come back and tell me “it worked.” Their fears were typically unfounded, and they get closer to their family. That’s what therapy is all about.

Next Week: Are martial arts programs harmful to aggressive children?

Dr. Ramey is the Executive Director of Dayton Children’s Center for Pediatric Mental Health Resources and can be contacted at

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