Helping children open up on sensitive issues

What you need to know:

  • Children often face various challenges and sensitive issues as they grow up, but a common problem is their hesitation to open up to adults about sensitive matters. Helping them overcome their fear of sharing will shape them into more self-aware individual

Children often face various challenges and sensitive issues as they grow up, but a common problem is their hesitation to open up to adults about sensitive matters.

However, children have various reasons for being afraid to discuss sensitive issues with adults.

Some children worry that adults will judge them or punish them if they reveal sensitive information.

10-year-old Samira Rashid, a student at Mapambano Primary School expresses: "I'm scared my parents will be angry or disappointed in me if I tell them what happened."

Some other children feel that adults might not understand their problems or feelings.

"Adults sometimes don't get what I'm going through, and I don't want them to think I'm being silly," shares Laura Kimaro, a 10-year-old student of Uzuri Primary School.

There is also a fear that the adults might not keep their information confidential.

"I told my teacher about our houseboy’s attempt to touch my breasts in confidence, and then everyone knew about it. I felt so betrayed and I promised myself never to tell any adult about my things because I can’t guarantee the confidentiality of my information," shares Christina Aidan, an 11-year-old girl Mabibo Primary School student recounts.

Additionally, some children often feel that adults might overreact or become overprotective, which can make situations worse.

"If I tell my mom, she'll probably call the school and make a big scene. It happened to my sister and I don’t to face the same type of shame she got for telling our mother about a teacher who seduced her in school," says 12-year-old Yasinta Salmin, a standard seven student at Tandale Magharibi Primary School.

On his part, Jonathan Rodgers, 11, from Bwawani Primary School: "I once confided in my aunt about being bullied at school, but she ended up telling my parents without asking me. Now, I’m afraid to open up to any adult because I don’t want my problems to spread without my consent."

10-year-old Irene Gumbo, a student at Jangwani Beach Primary School comments, "Whenever I try to talk to my older sister about something bothering me, she laughs it off or tells me to toughen up. It makes me feel like my feelings aren’t important, so I keep things to myself."

Another standard six student from Kijitonyama Kisiwani Primary School, Ali Hamisi, reveals: "I’ve seen how my friends’ parents react when they make mistakes. They yell and punish them harshly. I’m scared to tell my parents when I mess up because I don’t want them to be disappointed in me."

12-year-old Sophia Shabani, from Goba Primary School says that she once tried to tell her teacher about feeling anxious before exams, but she brushed it off, saying it’s normal.

“From that day, I’ve never tried again to be honest with any adult especially teachers. I hope these (adults) would take children’s feelings more seriously instead of just assuming we’ll grow out of it," she laments.

Teachers are referred to as guardians of these young learners because they spend a lot of time with them at school. This means they can and should help student figure out how to deal with situations they face and encourage them to be more comfortable to share their issues.

Ms Suzana Hamza, a teacher at Uzuri Primary School says it is it's essential for teachers to create an environment where students feel safe to express themselves.

“We must actively listen, validate their feelings, and assure them of confidentiality. Building trust takes time and consistency, and it's foundational to supporting our students' emotional well-being. I believe if a child doesn’t want to share something with you, then they have a reason and that’s to mean you are probably not friendly."

Similarly, Eliud Elias, a teacher at Mabibo Primary School says that the accounts shared by these children resonate deeply with the challenges many adolescents face.

“It's imperative for us as educators to not only provide academic guidance but also emotional support. By fostering open communication channels and offering resources like counselling services, we can empower students to navigate their emotions and challenges more effectively," says Eliud.

In addition to that, Ms Annabelle Mahundi, a teacher at Mapambano Primary School comments: “We must be mindful of the power dynamics at play and ensure that our responses to students' disclosures are supportive and non-judgmental. Building rapport and trust with students requires patience and genuine care for their well-being."

She continues saying that by teaching students how to identify and express their emotions effectively, children can be equipped with valuable skills for navigating interpersonal relationships and challenging situations.

“We have a responsibility to cultivate both academic success and emotional resilience in our students," she says.

It is well known that parents play a crucial role in fostering an environment where children feel comfortable sharing sensitive issues.

Many parents emphasise the importance of creating a non-judgmental and safe environment.

"We always tell our kids that they can talk to us about anything without fear of punishment," says Mbaroukh Ahmed, a parent and resident of Tabata.

On top of that, another parent, Zuhura Musa comments: “This approach helps to build a foundation of trust, where children know that their feelings and experiences will be received with empathy and understanding.”

She adds that reinforcing this message consistently helps to break down barriers and encourages open communication.

On his part, George Kisiki, a father of four and resident of Tandale, believes listening without immediate judgment or advice is key.

"I make sure to listen to my child's concerns fully before offering any advice or reaction," he notes.

He continues: “This strategy allows children to feel heard and respected, which is crucial for their willingness to open up.”

Mr Kisiki adds that this method fosters a sense of security and mutual respect.

"My daughter knows that whatever she tells me stays between us, unless it's something dangerous," he continues, highlighting the importance of maintaining confidentiality to build trust.

Some parents find it helpful to establish regular check-in times, such as during family dinners or bedtime routines, where everyone has a chance to talk about their day and any issues they may be facing.

“These routine discussions can make it easier for children to bring up sensitive topics, as they become accustomed to the practice of sharing regularly,” explains Ms Leticia Laurent a parent who is a resident of Ubungo.

On the other hand, a psychologist from Muhas (Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences) Mr Isack Lema reveals that children often fear the negative consequences of sharing sensitive information, such as punishment, ridicule, or disappointment from adults.

“It’s true that many children struggle to articulate their feelings due to a lack of emotional vocabulary,” he shares.

He went on to say: "Helping children develop a language for their emotions can make it easier for them to express what they are going through."

"Regularly discussing day-to-day activities and emotions can make it easier for children to approach adults with more serious concerns," advises Dr Lema.

However, he explains that children's reluctance to open up about sensitive issues to adults is rooted in various fears and past experiences.

“By understanding these reasons and working towards creating a trusting and supportive environment, parents, teachers, and other adults can help children feel more comfortable sharing their concerns,” he says.

“Active listening, maintaining confidentiality, and providing emotional support are key to encouraging children to speak openly about sensitive matters,” he notes.