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Difficult conversations

Image of teen girl with megaphone talking to parents behind a wall
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Difficult conversations

Psychiatrist Sujata Patel shares strategies for talking with kids about uncomfortable topics.

What are some common mistakes adults make when discussing uncomfortable issues with young people? Should the adult initiate a difficult conversation or wait for the child to bring it up? And under what circumstances is it considered a good thing if a teenager stomps off angrily at the end of a hard talk?

On this episode of School’s In, psychiatrist Sujata Patel joins Stanford Graduate School of Education Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope to talk about strategies for parents and teachers as they take on difficult conversations with young people. 

“The feelings are the most important part of the conversation,” says Patel, a psychiatrist at Vaden Health Center, which provides health services to students at Stanford. “Getting to resolution is not as important. If each person leaves the discussion feeling heard and understood and validated, that is a successful conversation.”

Taking a child’s perspective into consideration is key to reaching that outcome, she says. In a disagreement about whether to let a teenager go to a party, for instance, parents may be thinking about the child’s safety, healthy boundaries and a gradual increase in the child’s freedom. The child, meanwhile, may be focused on feelings of missing out and not being trusted.

“If you look at it from their perspective, it’s easier to get to a middle ground,” says Patel.

You can listen to School's In on SiriusXM, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Soundcloud.

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