While parent-child relationships can be filled with communication problems, they don't have to be. Find out how to have more satisfying conversations — and build trust — with your child, no matter the age level!
By Valle Dwight
When you’re ready to sit down and have a chat with your adolescent — whether it's to find out how his day went or to discuss more serious topics like homework, his behavior, or his friends — there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to do it. And if you happen to try the latter, you may well run smack-dab into a dead end.
“Talking to our children in a way that lets them express what is on their mind is extremely important,” explains Dr. Atilla Ceranoglu, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. “Talking to children from early on keeps both child and parent attuned to one another. It is solid preparation for the more stormy, tumultuous days of adolescence.”
An expert in parent-child communication, Ceranoglu offers tips on how to avoid the most common mistakes parents make when trying to get the conversational ball rolling with their children.
Parent: “We need to talk.”
Child (rolls eyes): “Oh, brother.”
Parent: “Look, I’m just a little worried about some of those kids you’ve been hanging out with. I don’t think they’re good for you.”
Child: “What’s wrong with them? You’re always telling me to be open to people! You’re such a hypocrite! I can’t believe you!” (Child stomps off and slams door.)
Ceranoglu has a mentor (a pet lover, apparently) who describes child development with a nice analogy: Infants and toddlers are like puppies. You can cuddle them all you want, kiss them, and hug them endlessly — they cannot get enough of you. But teenagers are like cats: They tend to avoid you most of the time, and once in a blue moon they will seek out your attention. The moment you try to touch them, however, they run away.
Trying to maintain and build a relationship with your middle-schooler is crucial to surviving the often-rocky teen years. And just as you know not to run headlong at a skittish cat, there are wrong ways to approach preteens and young teens:
Even if you manage to avoid these common mistakes, your child may still not be a little chatterbox, but that’s normal. All you can do is let him know that you are around and ready whenever he is, and be prepared to drop whatever you’re doing when your child wants to talk. Don’t worry, you won’t have to keep dropping things for the rest of your life, because once your child is convinced of your genuine interest, you will have built a relationship that encourages true communication.