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So tonight at bedtime, my child was wanting someone to stay with them (until they fell asleep). We have had a busy few days so maybe they were just wanting some quality time.

However I am a little concerned that they may be feeling unsettled. Given COVID-19 we have been encouraging them to wash their hands more often and properly, and to make sure they catch their cough in their elbow. Explaining that people can get sick if (we all) don't do that. This made them think they were sick.

So tonight I wanted to ask if they were feeling ok. But I didn't want to give them any leading prompts, in case I projected that worry onto them. I tried asking why they wanted mummy or daddy to stay next to them and they answered 'Because I want you to stay next to me'. Hmmm a tautology. Technically true but not very useful.

Are there any techniques which are useful to tease out if and why a child may be unsettled, without suggesting something that is not there they then may absorb and think they should be worried about?

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    What's your child's age? – A.bakker Mar 16 at 10:27
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    @A.bakker They are preschool. However I would rather not limit answers to just that age group, because soon enough they will be older. Although perhaps a separate question for teens maybe worth while. – DarcyThomas Mar 16 at 18:23
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    As a heads up, it's very common and in fact a cliché for younger kids to want their parents by the bedside. It's also common to relapse after having apparently outgrown it. There might not be an underlying problem. – Emilio M Bumachar Mar 16 at 19:28
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    Do people not remember being kids? I sure do. I wanted to sleep in my mom's bed or with her beside me just because I wanted to. That really was the reason. I didn't understand and couldn't explain it at the time, because I was a kid—brain not fully developed yet. I just really wanted her to, so I'd ask her to. It felt good and safe, I guess. Asking a kid to explain this is absurd. Often when parenting, think back to when you were a kid, and you'll understand. We're all basically the same. – user91988 Mar 17 at 16:37
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    I can't find it, but I saw on Imgur that a head of state took time to answer questions from kids. "It's ok to worry." You're safe. You're loved. etc. (something like that) – Mazura Mar 18 at 17:32
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A child that I am close to (7) has had some events in her life that made her a bit closed off, but she loves to draw so her mother taught her to express herself through drawing.

She asked her to draw how she feels each day, and from the reoccurring themes she was able to see that on the days she seemed sad she often drew herself alone and the drawings often had darker/blueish colors, and on the happier days lighter colors with red and yellow surrounded by either friends or family. From which she kinda concluded that her kid was afraid to be alone (this was shortly after her divorce). It also helped her discovered that she was afraid of wasps/bees because she heard people who are allergic can die from a sting.

It's probably not a fast solution to your problem but maybe you can trick your kid in to telling what is wrong by letting them draw about their feelings/day. After a few days you might spot a recurring theme that you can tackle.

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    Excellent advice. Note that this technique is often used in counseling and psychotherapy for children (and adults) - it's called Expressive Therapy, specifically Expressive Art Therapy. – sleske Mar 19 at 9:41
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One classic trick that I've used in the past with my kids is to talk to favorite toy instead of the child directly. The goal is to bait the kid into either talking to the toy or best of all talking for/as the toy. The technique works because it can feel less threatening to talk indirectly about things. I've mostly used this technique when my children are upset with me and don't want to talk to me about it but it might work in your situation too.

Here's a brief example of how it might work:

Me: Hi Teddy.

Teddy (me speaking for the teddy bear): Hi Papa.

Me: Teddy can I tell you a secret?

Teddy: Of course Papa.

Me: (In a loud whisper so the kid can hear) I'm worried about DarcyThomas.

Teddy: Why are you worried about DarcyThomas?

Me: They don't seem very happy and when I asked them what was the matter they didn't want to talk about it.

Teddy: I can see why you're worried. (Teddy looks at DarcyThomas) You're right they don't seem very happy.

Me: Teddy do you know what is bothering Darcy Thomas?

(Pause to see if DarcyThomas will speak for Teddy)

Teddy: Well let me see if I can figure it out. (Teddy does something silly like looks in DarcyThomas' ears and tickles DarcyThomas) I know what it is! DarcyThomas is worried that (say something silly that they definitely aren't worried about)!

DarcyThomas: No that's not true!

Me: Hmmmm. Teddy I know you're DarcyThomas' best friend but I don't think that's true. (hand Teddy to DarcyThomas) What else do you think could be bothering DarcyThomas?

Teddy (DarcyThomas speaking for teddy): DarcyThomas is worried about ....

Me: (Continue to talk to Teddy)

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I don't know but I have a feeling ;-)

" So tonight I wanted to ask if they were feeling ok. But I didn't want to give them any leading prompts, in case I projected that worry onto them. I tried asking why they wanted mummy or daddy to stay next to them.. "

As a kid from the above example I would get the feeling that my parent is worried or knows there is really something the kid should worry about ..

Instead I would behave confident like I am that there is nothing worth worrying about and not digging the feelings out of the kid. You confident --> kid confident. Don't ask too many questions that just make the kid worried that something is wrong. Just start directly doing whatever .. reading and maybe the kid will ask the other parent maybe not - and you will be again like ok no problem.. and the other one comes as confident as well.

NEED YOUR KID TO REVEAL SOME MIND DISTURBING PROBLEM? Ask a ridiculous question that makes your kid laugh. Expect an answer. Probably your relaxed kid will reveal at least a hint of the root problem.

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    This is a good answer if the kid is indeed absorbing your own concerns. However, it's always possible they have something else going on, and it would be good to help them figure out how to communicate that. – Carl Kevinson Mar 17 at 15:18
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    +1, although this perhaps isn't a timeless answer. At this time, most people are worried more than usual. Small kids tend to end up worried if surrounded by worrying adults, without even understanding what's changed. There's currently more opportunity to observe the child during the day, therefore less reason to interrogate further at bed time - compared to "normal" life. – Jirka Hanika Mar 18 at 14:25
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You've already got some good and sensible answers, I think, but I'll my views anyway.

I think we quite often can make too much of an issue of problems like this. My approach with my children (and now grandchildren) is more straight forward: I would simply ask directly, "Are you worried about what you hear about [...]?", and then take it from there. Children are not so fragile - just think of Grimm's Fairy Tales: children love them and don't worry about the rather gruesome things that happen.

Your job in that situation is to share their worries, but also to reassure. For the corona virus, the big worry is not that we are all going to die (we aren't - most of us will hardly notice it, apparently), but that it can be quite annoying when shops run out of things like toilet paper. And that, of course, is a problem that we can all do something about, like not panic-buying and so on.

A burden shared is a burden halved, as the saying goes - it is quite OK to admit to your child that you are worried, especially when you can go on to show that the real worry is something much less threatening. It also reinforces the feeling of togetherness - "we two look out for each other".

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