It turns out that the best way to find out what’s going on with your child is to, well, find out what’s going on with them. Lecturing or “grilling” won’t get you there, but an earnest, back-and-forth conversation could.
Just talking to your child is only half the job. You can keep the lines of communication open by knowing how to listen and when to talk.
Here are 9 practical tips for listening to your teen:
1. Create a safe 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 – most importantly – stick to your promise.
2. Put your smartphone down and don’t allow any interruptions while you’re talking to your teen. Model the behavior you’d expect from them.
3. Listen to and let your child vent. Sometimes she just needs to complain and get things off her chest.
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.
5. Be attentive for topics that lead into drugs or alcohol. Perhaps 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 his situation.
7. Be aware that your child could be hiding his true feelings out of fear, embarrassment, anxiety, or something else. You should be careful to not always take what your child says at face value.
8. Listen between the words. Pay attention to body language, facial expressions or difficulty finding the right words to use. Be patient.
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. This goes for your child, too – certain times are better for conversation than others.
Don’t worry about being perfect the first time, or every time. You’re human and so is your teen. If you’re struggling with a really challenging subject, tackle it in a series of small talks instead of one big one. If a conversation gets derailed, take a deep breath – and get back on the right track the next time.