The best way to find out what is going on with your child is to, well, find out what’s going on with him. Lecturing won’t get you there. A back-and-forth conversation will. But that’s not always so easy with teens, is it?
In order to keep the lines of communication open, it’s important to know how to listen and when to talk. Here are 10 tips to help:
1. Create a safe, comfortable environment for your child to share the truth. Assure your child that he can always be honest with you – without fear of ridicule or blame. And that you love him no matter what.
2. Turn off all smartphones and other electronics and don’t allow any interruptions during your conversation.
3. Listen to your child vent. Sometimes she just needs to complain and get things off their chest. She’ll feel better afterward.
4. Rephrase your teen’s comments to show him you’ve heard what he’s saying or give nonverbal support and encouragement by nodding and smiling. You can also say, “I know what you mean” or “I understand” or “I feel that way sometimes, too.”
5. Be attentive for topics that lead into drugs or alcohol. For example, if your teen describes someone at school who is “always high” or mentions a celebrity who has gone to rehab, ask your teen what she thinks about those people or their behavior.
6. Focus completely on your child and try to see things from your child’s point of view. This will help you sympathize with their situation.
7. Be aware that your child could be hiding their true feelings out of fear, embarrassment or something else. Be careful not to just take what the child says at face value. Gently question them if things don’t seem quite right to you.
8. Listen between the words. Pay attention to body language, facial expressions, eye contact, difficulty finding the right words to use, distractions, etc.
9. Recognize and confess when you don’t have the energy to be a good listener and agree to restart the conversation (as long as it isn’t dire) at a later, better time.
10. Be positive. Everyone loves a compliment — even your teen. Show your support by using encouraging words, pointing out good behaviors and actions as well as simply saying, “I’m proud of you” — even if it’s for something small.
11. Don’t feel you have to jump in and fill every lull. It’s okay to have long pauses and moments of silence during your conversation. In fact, it may help things sink in a bit. And you never know, you’re teen may suddenly pipe in with a brilliant insight, a profound reflection or even a juicy secret.