As your child transitions into a teenager, you may find that communication becomes a struggle or even non-existent. However, as your child matures, they experience an increased desire for autonomy and privacy, a need to try out different identities, greater investment in their peers, and physiological changes. This period of transition is vital, and it is important that you know how to effectively talk with your child about issues such as school, friends, or relationships without adding to their anxiety.

Things to Avoid

As you seek to build a positive relationship with your teenager, it is important to keep the channels of communication open and avoid unhelpful ways of communicating such as nagging, lecturing, or criticizing. Avoid closed questions, which stops the conversation before it even starts by requiring only a short, simple answer without the opportunity to elaborate further. For example, asking, ‘Did you have a good day?’ may imply that you expect them to have good day and can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Instead, opt for an opener such as ‘Tell me more about your day’ or ‘You seem happy/stressed, tell me about it.’

As your teenager talks with you, practice listening without judgment or criticism, and realize that they will sometimes have to find their own solutions to problems and may not take your advice or suggestions. Keep a listening ear and continue making efforts to facilitate conversation, demonstrating that you are someone they can trust and confide in.

Be wary of talk-blockers such as negative body language like crossed arms or facial expressions such as scowling, raised eyebrows, eye rolling, or smirking. Non-verbal sounds such as sighs or groans and the tone of your voice need to be kept in check as well. If you find that the conversation is making you or your child angry or upset, consider stepping away for a bit to let everyone cool down and return to the conversation later when the tension has subsided. Disagreements will happen, but don’t let them be a wedge in your communication with your teenager.

Keys to Effective Communication

When it comes to communicating with your teenager, a good rule of thumb is to be a good listener and simply talk with them. Every conversation you have doesn’t have to be about serious issues such as relationships or academics. Start off by telling them about your day and asking specific questions about theirs. As they talk, remember everything they say and ask questions to demonstrate that you are actively listening and care about what they have to say.

Sometimes teenagers are reluctant to talk, even if you are trying to help, so take it a step further by taking an interest in their interests. Help them with a school project or play a video game together. Consider finding a hobby to do together such as cooking, sewing, or a new sport. Communicating with your teenager is important in order to learn about what issues they are having, but you should be paying attention to nonverbal cues as well. It is normal for children to change as they age and mature, but pay close attention to changes in your child’s mood, behavior, energy level, or appetite.

If you notice that your teenager has stopped wanting to do things they once enjoyed, or see a change in their ability to function daily due to anxiety, talk with your teen about it and be supportive. You may be able to talk them through the anxieties they are feeling, but if the anxiety persists or they are suffering from depression, consider seeking the help of a professional.

Strive to have a meaningful conversation with your teenager every day, rather than just when you want to talk about issues or concerns. Effective communication is important in being able to identify areas your child may be struggling, and offering advice, guidance, and support without adding to the anxiety of growing up.

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