Dear Sarah: Talking to Children About Health

Dear Sarah,

My 14 year-old daughter has informed me that she is sexually active and is not interested in how this will impact her life and health.  How do I open the lines of communication between us so that she’ll continue to confide in me while not showing my anger at how irresponsible she’s acting?

—Concerned Parent

Dear Concerned,

It makes sense that you are concerned about your daughter’s health and overall wellbeing. A lot of parents of teens struggle with the balance required to stay connected and involved while also allowing them to experience new things on their own. This is a very important time in her life when she is starting to figure out how to have more independence while also relying on you for guidance, support, safety and comfort. The most important thing that you can do right now is to talk openly, without judgement, and listen patiently, while she learns more about herself, her sexuality, and her relationships. If you get the sense that your daughter may be hesitant to talk openly with you, this may be an opportunity for you to communicate that you do “get it” by giving her access to outside resources like Planned Parenthood, school nurses, or wellness centers. Given your concern about her health and safety, it may also be time to consider having your daughter meet with a gynecologist to learn more about her options for taking control of her sexual health and safety. Remind her that you are always available if and when she has questions regarding sex, birth control, STDs, drugs, alcohol, dating, or personal safety. Explain to her that no matter what happens, you will not judge her decisions, you will always love her and support her and that she can always come to you when she needs to.



Dear Sarah,

My 11-year-old son has always been a terrible sleeper and had struggles with anxiety as a younger child.  Recently, he started having bad anxiety about school right at bedtime, especially on Sunday nights. He worries about his grades, if he will do poorly on a test, or if he completed an assignment incorrectly. He can’t fall asleep as he keeps worrying. We try to comfort him and tell him there is not much he can do at 10:30 pm and that his rest is the most important thing for having a good day at school.  My husband and I don’t want him to be so stressed about grades.  What can we do to help him feel relaxed, less anxious, and more confident?

—Bedtime Anxiety

Dear Bedtime Anxiety,

It is not uncommon for some children to have difficulties at specific times of the day if they are aware that the next task coming up is going to be stressful.  The issue at bedtime is an issue that can be addressed by helping your son try to relieve his anxiety by changing his habits around that time.  Some children enjoy creating a worry box to leave notes in, reading a book, playing nature music/music without words, or doing breathing exercises. The success of whichever relaxation techniques he uses is more likely if you have him involved in the idea and give him the ability to have several choices to pick from.  You want him to be calm before bed to increase the opportunity for a restful night’s sleep.

The second step is to address the concern with school.  Usually kids are stressed when they feel pressured in some way.  Have a conversation with him about what he is afraid of when it relates to school.  Find out what supports are in the school that he may have readily available if and when he finds himself needing additional guidance or an outlet.  It is also helpful to have a conversation with his teachers to see if they have any concerns or have input into his mood while in the classroom setting.  If the school has any additional social activities that he can be involved in, that may help build his self-esteem and feeling of acceptance. It may be that your child is concerned with making you proud or reaching goals that he envisions for himself.  Let your son know that you are available for him to talk and that you are proud of the mature thinking he has around being successful, but that you want him to enjoy her 5th grade experience and his friends without so much worry.



Dear Sarah is JFS’ advice column. Submit your questions, and receive answers and advice from one of our licensed therapists. Names and details will be altered in published letters to protect your privacy. All letters will be answered and can be viewed on our website.