Has your previously chatty child suddenly decided to stop sharing with you? You're not alone. Many parents of teens and tweens feel shut out from their children's lives. Mighty Mommy shares 7 strategies to get your reticent kid to open up.
Remember when your child chatted nonstop about everything from the monster she thought was living under her bed, to the endless questions about how things worked and why she couldn’t eat candy for dinner or wear her PJs to school? Even when she hated the fact that you had to help her brush her teeth every night, she still couldn’t wait to get home from school and chirp away about her day.
Fast forward just a few years and you’re feeling lucky if the former chatterbox lets you know when she got an A+ on her exam. While this isn’t the case for all kids, there are many parents who are feeling shut out of their tween or teen's life.
Mighty Mommy has experienced this with many of her 8 kids. Today, she has 7 ways to jump start the conversation so you can still stay connected even if those “Chatty Cathy” days are in the past.
Tip # 1: Welcome Them Home First, Ask Questions Later
When I’ve been away from my family for a good portion of the day, even before I can turn my car engine off, I am greeted by a crush of of little bodies running out to see me. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the fact that my kids have missed me, but when the questions come at me like a machine gun—“Mom, where did you go?” “Mom, did you get me anything?” “Hey Mom, what’s for dinner?”—my instincts tell me to shut myself down so that I can save myself from the grilling.
See also: 6 Ways to Improve Family Communication
Kids are no different. It can be intimidating for them to be bombarded with questions the minute they walk into the house. So it pays to simply greet them and be casual with your conversation and wait before probing into their day.
Tip #2: Ask "What" Before "Why"
Questions that begin with “Why” often make kids feel defensive; “Why did you choose Kate to be your science partner?” won’t work nearly as well as “What qualities does Kate have that you thought would be a good match with you for this science project?”
It's a slight semantic difference, but somehow it makes the question less intimidating and the response less defensive.
Tip #3: Talk About Your Day First
When I see my kids after work and sense that no one really wants to share much, I take the lead and instead chat about what I did at work that day, opening the lines of communication for my kids to chime in about their experiences.
See also: 6 Ways to Take Back Family Time
So if anything exciting happened at my office, like the baby possum who snuck into our building and fell asleep in the corner of the restroom, I can talk about what we had to do to get the little guy safely out of our building. When I talk with enthusiasm it draws them out and when I’m done, chances are one of my kids will open up about something that happened in the cafeteria or at recess. It doesn’t work every time, but I’ve had a lot of success with this method and it actually acts as a stress reliever for me because sometimes I share things that aren’t always pleasant and my kids see that side of my life as well.
Tip #4: Don’t Be Too Touch-Feely
Imagine your teenage son comes to you and says, "Hey Mom. I'm starting to have some feelings about girls. Can we chat?"
Keep imagining because that’s not going to happen.
It can be scary or embarrassing for him to bring up such a personal, touchy topic. And a lot of topics are touchy to kids at this age, so instead of probing, try some tactful questions instead.
Open with something non-specific: 'It seems like you're upset. Do you want me to try to guess what's bothering you?' Then ask your child to tell you if you're close or completely off track with your guesses.
This puts the child in control of where the conversation is going. You could also ask if he wants to write a note for you to read - either right away or after he's in bed. This offers a bit more privacy so if he doesn’t want to talk to you, writing about it opens the doors of communication in another venue.
Tip #5: Let the Backpack Do the Talking
There is a small window of opportunity when parents can rifle through their children’s backpacks in order to discover clues about what is happening at school—anywhere between pre-K and 6th grade is usually a safe bet. Better yet, go through the backpack together and you might really hit the jackpot. As with any new habit, you have to be consistent and make a regular time to do this every night so that your child will come to expect it and accept that you are interested in the goings on at school.
Look at homework assignments, graded tests, newsletters, weekly planners—basically anything that gives you a glimpse into your child’s school life. But don’t stop there; ask specific questions about what you’re finding. “Hey, I see you’re doing better in science—what do you like about your teacher this year?”