Getting your teen (and pre-teen) to talk to you

May 16, 2013



My kids actually tell me a lot. Maybe even too much.  Our whole family tends to be talkative.  However, I have seen in my practice and in life that most teens and pre-teens stop confiding in their parents. And that is somewhat normal. They shouldn't tell us everything. It is part of becoming an independent adult.

However, most parents I know want their kids to talk to them a bit more and I am going to tell you just how to accomplish that!

1. Be Quiet.

Yes, that is right.  Shhh...  Don't bombard your teen with questions when they get in the car or walk in the door.  It will make them close up.  When my oldest son started high school last year, I picked him up everyday after school.  As soon as he got in the car, it went like this:

Me: How was school?
Him: Good.

Me: Who did you sit with at lunch?
Him: Guys (it's an all boy school, duh!)

Me: Do you have a lot of homework?
Him: Yes.

Me: Did you go over to the girls' school at lunch?
Him: Maybe.

Maybe I was not asking the right questions. I don't know.  But I do know that he was not talking to me much and I missed that. When my boys were little, I usually asked more open ended questions. But with this being a new school, I did not really know what to ask.  He is my oldest and we were treading new waters.


So, I stopped asking questions altogether. He would get in the car and I would just say hi.  Then I would simply drive. And guess what?  He started telling me stuff.  A lot of stuff. Details. All the stuff I really wanted to know. I found the less I ask, the more they tell. When you ask a lot of questions, teens get defensive and feel invaded.  If you hold back quietly, they will decide to tell you stuff.  When it is their idea, they will tell you more.

2. Just be there.

So #1 and #2 go hand in hand.  You cannot stop asking questions and be absent as well.  That would be a mistake. I try to just "be there" with my kids as much as I can.  I will just go hang out in their room.  I don't schedule clients and I am rarely on the phone/computer during the after school hours.  I just try to be around.  If my middle schooler is in the garage making a slingshot, I go out there and watch. And guess what? He talks to me. If my high schooler is up late studying in his room, I just wander in and sit on his window bench.  He is usually so grateful for a study break, he confides in me.  Just being there cannot be underestimated.

And if you have teens, food is a gateway to conversation.  Take a teen out to eat and they will talk.  Trust me.

A friend recently told me that a Mom she knew used to sit at the kitchen table after school with a cup of tea and some mail or trivial paperwork. She did not get in her children's face but she was always "just there" and available if they wanted her. It works.

3. Listen to the stuff they want to talk about.  

This one can really be tough. You might not be interested in hearing about paint ball or a video game or the latest cafeteria antics at school.  Listen anyway! Act interested. One time when I was feeling a bit disconnected from one of my sons, I started acting interested in a passion of his (it was not interesting to me at all--in fact, I still don't quite get it). However, he talked about it forever and I nodded and said, " wow" and "interesting" and "go on." It communicated to him that I am interested in HIM--in his life and his passions. I actually saw what my son was so passionate about (even if it is not my passion). It built a connection that led to more conversations in other areas. So listen to the boring stuff even if it is about video games. This is an area where asking questions is good. Ask about the stuff they want to talk about (their passions) not the stuff YOU want to know about.

Example: Tell me all about that Iron Man movie, son.

4. Under-react.

This might be the most important tip of all.  In my practice as a parenting coach, I have a lot of clients come to me because their kids lie or hide things from them.  They are sneaky.  Sometimes, I meet with these kids to figure out what is going on.  And you know what I have learned?  Most of the kids don't tell their parents things because parents tend to freak out!  It is not even that the kids are afraid of getting in trouble.  What they really don't want is their parents to make a big fuss over things.  This is true whether it is good news OR bad news. And let's face it, most parents over-react.

A very good friend of mine has always been extremely close to her Mom, even in the teen years.  I asked her a long time ago what it was that kept them so close during those teen years when a lot of kids are not close to their parents and she told me two things. One was that she and her Mom shared a  hobby during the teen years.  They had horses and they walked to the stables everyday to care for them.  They did not always talk but her Mom was just there (point #2) and they had something in common (point #3).  She also told me that when she did tell her Mom things, her Mom never over-reacted.  She never gasped and said "Really, oh my Gosh!"  She listened calmly and carefully.  It made telling her things much easier.

I have tried this with my own kids and it works.  They have told me things that have made me want to jump out of my skin and hit someone.  Seriously. They have told me things that have made me want to pick up the phone and call a parent or a teacher and scream and yell. But I very carefully acted nonchalantly and said, "hmmm really? Then what happened?"

Let me tell you, all kids will tell you A LOT more if you don't freak out when they do tell you stuff.  I am not saying that we should not ever show emotion or intervene. There are certainly times for that. I am just saying that we should carefully calculate our reactions.  Not everything is that big of a deal.  Listen.  Stay calm. Then go in your room and call a girlfriend and "over-react" to her.  That is what I do. Usually after I vent to a trusted friend, I realize my kids will figure out their own problems and successes. They don't need me getting all worked up. My job is to be a soft place to land.  When we over-react we actually make the situation more stressful for our kids. And they will not come back for more of that.

I know most of this advice seems counter-intuitive.  It feels funny for me, as a communication expert, to tell you not to ask your kids questions and to act non-chalant.  But the truth is teenagers are a strange beast.  And what works in other situations, doesn't always work with them.  Give these tips a try and let me know what happens.  And please don't tell my kids my secrets!

19 comments:

  1. Such great advice and ideas!! I'm going to be ALL set when Sophie is a pre-teen! Love it!

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    1. Thank you Shana and thank you for YEARS of moral support and friendship!!!

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  2. LOVE your new blog!! Thankful for your great advice!! My adult, newly married daughter calls me everyday now on her way home from work...SO THANKFUL!!!
    Looking forward to reading your next post!

    Lori

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    1. Oh Lori...that is exactly my hope with my daughter:) SO happy for you. Thank you for stopping by!

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  3. Thank you! Great advice....I needed that!

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  4. Great advice. Although my teenager does talk to me ... I plan on being a lot quieter on our morning drive to school. I know for sure I ask way to many questions!! Thanks!!

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    1. Thanks Michelle! Let me know how it goes.

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  5. Great Post. Having a teenage daughter, it has been trial and error on getting her to talk to me more. I learned #1 now to work on the rest. Thank you for posting!

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  6. Just what I needed to hear! I have been at a loss as to how to get my 14 yo daughter to open up to me and how to get that closeness back. New strategies to try!
    Thank you!

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  7. LOVE the new blog AND the advice--My daughter is only 10 and I know I am guilty of asking way too many questions and I recall hating it when my mom did it to me--I'm trying hard to stop--so this advice came at a perfect time! Thanks for the new blog and sharing your expertise, trials and errors with us!
    Barbarann

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  8. LOVE the new blog and the great advice--we are quickly sliding down that slippery slope with a preteen in the house--I know I ask way too many questions and have been trying to work on this so this came at a perfect time for us!!! Thanks for sharing your expertise, trials and errors with us!
    Barbarann

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  9. I just found this on Pinterest! Beautiful new blog, Kim! I love this advice- keep it coming!!

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  10. Great new blog. I need to try the under-react with my just turned 12 year old. I am guilty of freaking out and now he's started fibbing to avoid my reaction. Thanks for some new ideas.

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  11. Love your new blog, Kim. This post resinated with me since my daughter is 11 and I realize that I do exactly what you used to do by asking too many questions. I'm going to take your advice and not ask, to see where it goes. Also, going to focus on not reacting! Keep the advice coming!

    Catherine

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  12. LOVE this post!!! I am fairly close to my 13 year old daughter but realize that I need to work on some things.... not asking so many questions and not over-reacting. I tend to over react when I feel she has been mistreated.... she has even said "Mom, calm down, it's not that big of a deal". I thought I was doing the right thing by showing her that I was on her side but I can see now that she doesn't like me over-reacting regardless of the situation!! THANKS!!!!

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  13. oh, this was the best. I can nod my head now and agree with all these suggestions. especially now that my only son has graduated from high school. Some of your suggestions dawned on me as the years went by for us, especially the one about not bombarding your child with questions and let him/her take the lead.

    Something that my son and I did that we continued for years was a game called "five things". we would play "five things" just as he was getting home from school. he never really talked much about his day, either, so I made up a "game" where we each told the other "five things" that happened during the day. The catch was that one of the things had to be false/a 'made up' thing. He'd tell me four TRUE things and one false one and my job was to guess which thing was NOT true. Then I'd take a turn telling him "five things" about my day. He thought it was fun and I got to learn at least four things that happened during his day.

    thanks for the great blog! donna

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    1. Donna...I LOVE your game and just might steal it or mention it in a future post. What a great idea. Thank you for your comment.

      Kim

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  14. Love your new blog and this post. My middle child will talk my ear off when we have one on one time. He tends to be more quiet when loud outgoing actress big sister and sassy younger brother are around. Maybe birth order could be a good post for you...and me!

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