Getting children to open up and talk about their emotions is no easy task. As a parent, you may find yourself feeling frustrated because you’re not really sure what is going on inside their minds. You may experience conflicts with them when they are aggressive or you may rarely see them as they come home from school, go to their room, shut the door, and sit on their phone until you call them down for dinner. You’re not sure if they are just being a normal teenager or if there might be something else going on. Regardless, the following parenting strategies can help your child open up a bit more so you can understand what is going on in their world.
- Create consistent time with your child.
Although adolescents want to be independent, they still need you and your time. Make sure to set aside time even if it is just once a week. Go for a walk or hike, hang out in the park and have a catch, or stop off in a local bakery or coffee shop for a pastry and hot drink. Keep it predictable. If your child expects time with you every Friday, it is much more likely that they will look forward to it as opposed to resisting it. During these moments, encourage your child to fill you in on what is going on in their life. Adolescents are much more likely to give you more details about what is going on below the surface if you are doing something with them as opposed to just sitting at the dinner table or in the car driving to or from an activity.
2. Ask open ended questions, reflect how you think they are feeling, & then just listen!
Once your child is ready to talk, continue to ask open ended questions that require more than just a yes or no response. Try to read their body language and facial expressions and then take a guess what you think they may be feeling. “That must make you feel sad,” or “You look pretty overwhelmed. What is making you feel this way?” are two examples of ways you may reflect what your child is feeling. If you are correct, they should start talking. If you are incorrect, they may correct you and let you know what they are really feeling. Regardless, if your child begins talking to you, just listen! Do not judge and do not give your opinion. This will cause your child to clam up and stop talking. Just keep saying, “What else,” or “Tell me more” until they get everything out. Try to validate what they are feeling the best you can. Afterwards, you can tell them that you love them and thank your teen for feeling comfortable enough to open up to you.
3. Give your child space and time if this is what they need.
If your child is having a strong emotion and they do not want to talk about it, do not pressure them. Keep in mind, your child’s brain is still developing so their emotions are much more intense in the moment. If they are having a tantrum or meltdown, do not engage. If they tell you to “get out” or to leave them alone, just walk away. It may be helpful for you to let them know that you are here for them whenever they are ready to talk. Eventually when your child calms down, they may be ready to talk. Again, it is more likely that this will occur if you are out doing an activity (ie: having a catch, going for a hike, etc.) than if you are home in their room or sitting down for dinner. Timing is everything!
4. Set rules, boundaries, and limitations especially with technology.
Whether you are home playing a family game, driving your child to or from school, or sitting down for a meal, they are much more likely to talk if they aren’t distracted by technology. If you want to create more times of the day that your child is talking, it is important that they are aware of the times of the day that technology is off and put away. If you are not clear with your expectations, your child will take advantage and be on their phone as often if not more than you! They may not be as engaged in a conversation with you if their friends are snap chatting or texting them. Although they may be resistant to the rules at first or they may sneak from time to time and break the rules, it is much more likely that your child will talk to you if they are not distracted by technology. It is super important that you mode the rules and put your phone away. Over time, this will improve your connection with your child as they will open up to you more frequently.