How to create an atmosphere where teens will want to talk

Creating an Atmosphere to Share
by Chantelle K. Dockter, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor

Life is busy. I know, that is stating the obvious. But just recently, I truly realized how busy each day really is. It seems like every moment is accounted for. By the time you get the tasks of the day completed, it is time to do it all over again the next day.

Our girls are now 5 and 3 years old. As a therapist that works with a variety of clientele, including teens, I know how important it is to foster a relationship with your children that encourages communication. This can and should begin at an early age.

The tricky part is making the time to do this and even trickier is creating an atmosphere where the child or teen will want to talk.

You all know how it goes. “How was school today? What did you learn? “ asked to a child who is returning home is often met with, “Good. Nothing. I don’t know.” Sitting face to face in the living room talking about what is right or wrong, friend dilemmas, or behavior can easily turn into us talking at our kids instead of communicating with our kids.

You can tell by the glazed over look in their eyes as you talk.

So what is the answer? How do we do this…and manage everything else on our plate…and with multiple children?

Let’s tackle the finding time dilemma first. Rest assured, it is quality that is the biggest factor. Fifteen to 30 minutes a couple of times a week of focused, quality time can make a huge difference. Like anything else in life, if we schedule it, it is much more likely that the event will actually happen. Not only that, it gives both parties involved a chance to look forward to it, and to have some security (on the kids’ end) that it will indeed happen.

When I was a teen, my dad and I would go at least one evening a week rollerblading and then to Starbucks for a foofy coffee. Now, if you know my dad you will understand that rollerblading was definitely something that he did for me, as he has weak ankles and has never liked skating of any kind.

But bless his heart, he was consistent and gave it his very best. It made his teenage daughter feel loved, a priority, and of course provided some good laughs! As an adult, I still think of those times often and cherish them. The biggest thing that came from those times was that we would talk. Rollerblading side by side, I felt safe and unrushed and would share with my dad in a way that I normally didn’t tend to. I came to really look forward to our “dates” and would think ahead of the time about what I wanted to talk about with him.

What a great example of what all kids need: consistent quality time, an adult to make an effort to join their world, and a natural breeding ground for communication.

Kids are notorious for not talking to their parents. Part of this is because they are investing in friendships and talking to those friends, which is developmentally appropriate. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Find an activity to do with your child and let them know you want to be around them. Don’t push for conversation too hard, just let it develop. Even the comfortable silences spent side by side can speak volumes. Let your child or teen be the “expert” in something and let them teach you. We as the adults don’t have to know everything at all times.

On my home front, I have experienced this recently with my 5 year old, Alexis. I have always been an avid runner. Alexis has been saying she wants to go with me. Rather than dismiss her, I invited her to go with me (after I did my long run first!). She was SO excited! She had gotten running shorts, a shirt, and shoes “just like Mommy’s.” I put her hair in a ponytail so she would “match Mommy.”

We stretched our legs together and took off. I gave her just a few instructions (like not to run as fast as you possibly can at the beginning, or you will die out quickly), but then settled into a comfortable pace. I gave a lot of encouragement and accolades, which she just eats up.

Near the middle of our run, she began to talk about her anxiety and fears regarding starting Kindergarten. She brought it up all on her own, out of the blue. I can honestly say that is one of the BEST conversations we have ever had. We would walk when she got tired, and she just kept on talking. As she talked, I made a mental note to do this as often as we can. The pride in her smile when we reached our home and the huge hug she gave me were both confirmation of the quality time she needs. The words she then spoke…“Mom, I love to run with you. When can we go again?” were all I needed to hear.

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