Talking to your teenager can be an uphill battle. Whether it is just to ask him/her how their day was or to have a serious talk, getting your teenager to talk with you can be hard. Dr. Atilla Ceranoglu, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, uses a great metaphor to describe child development. 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.
As parents it is important of us to figure out how to not make our kids run away from us when we are trying to talk to them. Just like you know not to run head first at a skittish cat, there are wrong ways to approach teens. Our friends at Great Schools came up with three things to avoid doing when trying to talk to your teens.
- Waiting for a crisis. When tensions are high, your child is not going to be in a position to open up to you. Engage early and often, before there is a problem. This way you will develop a rapport with your child that will be very important when an actual crisis arises. “Remember, it’s impossible to build a bridge in the middle of a quake, but a bridge built earlier may be flexible and sturdy enough to ward off a quake when it comes,” says Ceranoglu. “A relationship is just like that. Its foundation and flexible nature are important ingredients of happiness.”
- Taking the too-direct approach. You’re probably not going to get a lot out of your child if you say, “Let’s sit down and talk.” Instead, do something together your child likes and let the conversation happen. Spending more time with him now will help build the bridges you’ll need later. “Your consistent presence in your child’s life will help your child feel comfortable with talking to you if something bothers him,” says Ceranoglu.
- Letting the opportunity pass. Your child may seem to be always pushing you away, but that doesn’t mean he really wants you to disappear! Be vigilant about observing his mood, and approach him when you see a chance to talk or do something together.
Even if you avoid all of these mistakes, your teen might not be much into talking. There is nothing wrong with that. Don’t try to force them to have a sit down talk. What is most important is that you let them know you are there to talk or just listen whenever they need you.