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How to communicate with your tween or teen

By Susan Pohorski

As I look around in public places I am noticing more parents pushing their child in a stroller and talking on their cell phone, listening to an mp3 player or checking messages, Twitter or Facebook. What does that teach the child about communication? Someone else is more important than they are? My Mom doesn’t want to talk with me?

Good communication with your child starts at a young age and extends through their teen years. If you haven’t been conversing with your young child, don’t expect great discussions with them when they are tweens or teens.

It takes focus, interest and listening without interruption. You won’t be able to have a good chat with your son or daughter when the television or video game is on. Choose a time when you can both focus and listen to each other. You might have to make an appointment or request. “I’d like to talk with you about something after you finish your homework.” Or “Can we talk about __________ when you get home from school?” 

This requires being sensitive to your child and looking for those moments when he or she is open to talking. Is she chatty when you pick her up from daycare? Or is she tired and cranky? Does he open up at the dinner table? Or is bedtime a good time to discuss things? Driving in the car is often a good time to communicate if you are not too rushed.

If your child interrupts you with important news or a serious question should you drop everything? Or say, “When I am finished with ____________ I’ll be able to talk with you.” This is a personal parenting choice to teach children about interruptions and about learning to wait. Your goal is to let them know you value talking with them.

Remember you have to give in order to get. If you expect your child to be honest with you and to share intimate personal details you must be ready to be candid yourself. Did you ever get in trouble at school and have to serve detention? Have you told your child that you felt rejected in seventh grade when your best friend turned on you? What were your struggles when you were their age?

Parenting expert and clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham shares 150 Conversation Starters for Family Discussions.

What have you found to be helpful in communicating with your children?


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