How can I get my teenager to communicate with me?

Father And Daughter Together At Home

By Brooke Sellhorn, MA, LMFT Director of Crosswinds In-Home Family Counseling

I want my home to be a place for conversation

There are many parents who desire a healthy, warm relationship with their children.  Often the parents we work with have good intentions, but their efforts are often counter-productive in their desire for an open conversation in their home.  Instead of creating a place for conversation, they create a place for arguments and shut downs.  

Dr. Kevin Leman gives wise advice in his book Have a New Kid by Friday:

“If you want a child to talk to you, don’t ask questions.  Instead, get quietly involved in their world.  Talk about what they’re interested in—even if it’s not what you’re interested in….’That’s interesting.  Tell me more about it.’”  

It is a conversation skill to be able to engage with a child without asking questions.  And, if you do ask questions, to only ask open-ended questions.  If the question can be answered with a yes, no, grunt, or shrug: the adolescent will most definitely take this short-answer option.  The key is being selfless and willing to communicate on the child’s terms.  This may also include how you converse with a child.  This may include utilizing social media and texting as a form of communication in your home.  This is the language that kids speak.  In order to connect with them, one must be willing to speak in their native tongue, which includes technology.

Here are some common ways that parents poison their relationship with their adolescent and thus kill the conversation in their homes, according to Dr. Scott Sells of Parenting with Love and Limits.

  1. Bringing up the past
  2.  Attacking the person rather than the misbehavior
  3.  Making compliment sandwiches (a compliment followed by the word “but”)
  4.  Intimating that the teen must be good to earn your love
  5.  Offering no opportunities to regain trust

The anecdote to these five poisonous acts are these five strategies for restoring nurturance in your relationship, also from Dr. Sells:

  1. Special outings (one on one, outside the house, scheduled, consistent weekly)
  2. Accept underlying feelings
    1. Provide undivided attention
    2. Just listen and respond with “oh” and “mmm”
    3. Reply nonjudgmentally: help him to feel heard rather than criticized, ignored, or misunderstood
    4. Try responding with “It seems like….” Or “Sounds as if…”
  3. Power of hugs
  4. Be the first to restore good feelings
  5. Give your child opportunities to regain trust

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