It’s a common reason for parents to check my blog or show up in my office.
“My daughter just won’t open up!”
Sometimes, mom is sure there is something going on with her daughter and she’s desperate to know how to help. Other times, mom just misses that close relationship she once had as she navigates the teen yeas, and she’s understandably afraid or even disappointed. Either way, as adolescence descends upon your happy home, there will be changes. Your once chatty child is now becoming an independent young adult and you can feel like an outsider looking in.
Most of the time, this completely normal developmental stage has very little to do with a real problem. Teens want independence and their secrecy is usually about wanting to feel more mature and caring about what their peers think than doing anything seriously wrong. But parents are right to keep an eye open for trouble on the horizons, negative influences or even symptoms of depression or other mental health needs that can show up.
After they’ve come to me, some of my clients are in awe of how easily their children open up and begin to share the things they’ve been begging to hear. And while I can’t give everyone a counseling degree, giving parents a “cheat sheet” for teen communication, is the goal of my latest book, Get Teens Talking: 23 Tips for Getting Your Teen to Talk AND Listen to You.
After years of working with children and families, one of the things I know for sure is that as much as teens want to keep things private and have their own lives, sometimes, the reason they won’t talk to us as parents is more about how we talk and less about what we are or aren’t saying. Here’s a quick list of 3 things that we as parents might be doing that can interfere with the conversations we desperately want to have.
We talk TOO much. No reason to beat around the bush. Sometimes we simply use too many words and say more than we need to. Do you remember the old Charlie Brown cartoon where the teacher stood at the front of the room and went on and on and all the kids heard was, “waa waa waa waa”? Yes, that’s sometimes how our kids feel when we start talking and it’s possibly that they are listening to us about as much as Peppermint Patty was hearing her teacher.
Try using the minimum amount of words to have the best effect. Did your daughter “forget” to do the dishes? Just knock on the door and say, “dishes”. If she actually did forget, that will be more than enough of a reminder and will keep you from wasting your breath and frustrating yourself with another lecture. Go for short and simple as often as you can.
We’re not curious enough. I know you think you couldn’t be more curious, but it’s not about your actual interest, it’s how we show that curiosity. Sometimes parents really do want to hear what their kids have to say, but the way we ask a question can shut them down. Look at these two examples.
“Why did you do that?” or “Were there any other options?”
Both of these questions are asking the same thing, what was the thought process behind a particular decision. But using the word why can automatically signal a teen to be on the defensive which is not what we want.
Try to say things like, “I wonder if...” or “Have you tried...”, when you’re about to ask a question. It gives the impression that you don’t have all the answers, but that you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say.
We listen to respond and not to understand. Truthfully, we probably do these more than we should with adults as well as kids. We want so badly to be talking, that when we finally get the kids to open up we’re so focused on giving them the “right” answer that we forget to really hear what they need from us. Maybe when your daughter starts in on her boyfriend trouble, instead of telling her that you never liked him anyway, you listen and get the idea that what she really wants to hear is that you understand how painful a breakup can be.
Try to stay present in the conversation and listen for feeling words that your child may use, or allude to, so you can offer empathy and compassion. Reflective listening is one of those counselor tools that keeps people talking for hours because it feels so good to be understood.
Having a good relationship with your child depends on good communication. Add a few tools to your toobox and know that they still need you, just in a different way.