My Kid Doesn’t Talk to Me

Child psychologists tell parents to listen to their children, and they should.  I have learned in my practice and in my life as a parent that it isn’t always clear how to get children to talk when you want to listen.

When children get home from school or parents arrive home from work,  parent asks, “How was your day?”  Answer, “Fine.”  “Anything interesting happen?”  “Nope.”  I can’t say that I know why this happens, but I know that it does.  So, when can you talk?

Many parents find that children talk when other distractions are excluded.  Younger children often get chatty in the bath.  Children younger and older share their day at bedtime.  For children and adults worries often come forth at this time.  For some it is helpful to share the worries at bedtime.  For others it can complicate getting to sleep.  In that case, it is better to stick to a bedtime routine that includes peaceful time with you but is structure, like a reading a book together.

Parents of teens know that the best way to find out what is going on is to drive in the car.  Without direct eye contact and the distraction of TV teens often talk about their lives:  drama with friends, worry about an assignment, the kinds of things you want to know. This assumes that the phone is turned off and the ear buds are out.  You can ask politely for your child to stop texting or turn off the ipod, but just the fact that she is doing this, tells you something about her willingness to be open with you.  Some groundwork needs to be done that goes beyond this piece.

I recommend that parents just “show up.”  When your child is watching TV, drop in to watch.   Maybe you can chat during commercials.  Your child might appreciate your interest in his show, whether it’s The Simpsons, Sponge Bob, or South Park.  In fact, you might enjoy the show yourself.  Sit and watch when your child is playing a video game and ask questions about it.  You could courageously try the game yourself if invited. Prepare to be laughed at.

During conversation at these times, it is important that you maintain a non-judgmental stance.  Be genuinely curious about the show.  Refrain from lecturing. You are trying to build a relationship and a space where your child might volunteer more about his life.  It is not the place for you to ask about tests or progress reports.  Those are topics that  might make your child defensive, expecting a lecture or judgment.  Of course, you need to know about those topics, just not in this context.

How do you get your children to talk to you?  How do you get around the ipods and the texting?  I would be very interested to hear.


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Photo credit:  SwedishCarina on Flickr


8 Responses to “My Kid Doesn’t Talk to Me”
  1. Hi Carolyn – thanks so much for this post. I love the advice to “just show up.” take care, K

  2. dr.cstone says:

    Thanks, Kathy. It’s usually not too hard to just flop in a chair nearby and see what transpires. But as parents, we probably have to leave our own goal-oriented behavior and remember that “showing up” also pursues an important goal.

  3. This is a great post. My daughter just turned 7 and in what is likely a preview of her teenage years recently opened up to me about some social issues in the car after we went on an errand together. I had to pull over in front of the house and we sat there for a good while. I was just grateful she was talking. I think sometimes it is a big challenge to be present and show up exactly when they need us.

  4. dr.cstone says:

    HI Allison,
    Thanks for your comment. Good for you for pulling over to listen. I know that for me as a goal-directed person it can be a challenge to be present when needed, but it is so rewarding!

  5. Carolyn,

    I think that “showing up” is one of the most important and most under-rated pieces of our work as parents. There are always concrete tasks demanding our attention, but those tasks will still be around later. We only have short window to establish strong communication with our kids. I also like to remind myself and other parents that we also need to unplug from our distractions, so that we don’t miss the opportunities to connect with our kids.


  6. Colleen says:

    Carolyn, it’s so true that we need to meet our kids on their levels. We can’t expect them to be interested in what we have to say if we never pay attention to what they’re interested in. My experience is that kids usually want to share with us, and want us to pay attention. They start to get resentful if we expect it to be one-way.

  7. dr.cstone says:

    Thanks for your comment, Ann. It’s true–it’s a real challenge to pull away and be present. So simple and yet so important. If parents can just start small, like showing up during a TV show, I think it grows.

  8. dr.cstone says:

    HI Colleen,
    I really like your point about not having it be one-way, from adult to child. Kids know that this isn’t really being together. I think some parents feel that they need to be teaching and advising at all times, when in fact, spending time just being is so important to maintaining the relationship.