Anger, you can tolerate. Rebelliousness, you can guide. But your young teenager?s silence is some thing you don?t know how to handle. As a parent, your role so far has been to nurture and protect your child in rough situations. But how can you help her if she won?t tell you what?s going on?
The first step in dealing with a suddenly silent middle schooler is to relax. As difficult as it may be, recognize that your child?s withdrawal is probably normal.
As young teens begin to explore their own individuality and independence, the first thing they must do is move away from you emotionally. Even if your son knows you want to talk and are willing to listen, sharing a problem with you might make him feel as if he?s giving up hard-earned freedom and space. As long as he still talks to you sometimes, this turning from you can be a healthy step toward maturity.
You might notice your child going to friends or other adults for conversation and advice. Again, this is normal, but it?s a good idea to pay attention to who she?s talking to. Encourage her to confide in God, church youth leaders or older, more mature Christian friends.
Just because your child talks less doesn?t mean the talking has to stop altogether. Let him know you understand some of what he?s going through. Talk about the struggles you remember facing when you were his age and how you felt. Ask him to tell you about a struggle or success he?s currently experiencing.
You might find that your young teen is more talkative when the two of you are riding in the car or working on a jigsaw puzzle together. When the focus is on something other than herself, your child will be more willing to open up to you.
It?s also important to understand that at this stage, a child?s communication skills are still not fully developed. Research has shown that as a young teenager?s mental development
progresses, his communication skills drop. It?s not until later adolescence that kids gain the ability to fully put their thoughts and feelings into words. It?s up to you to show them how to talk and invite them to express what?s going on in their lives.
During those times when your child does want to talk, don?t hurry her. Give her time to think through what she wants to say. Try not to say it for her, unless you?re simply reflecting something she?s already said ("Are you saying ? ?"). I often suggest parents ask their teens to give them three sentences about what?s going on in their lives. This gets the child talking without feeling like she has to say more than she wants to.
Seek God?s guidance before you talk with your young teen, asking for insight and help. Then look for ways to help your child develop his communication skills.
While you won?t be able to heal all the hurts that your young teen is feeling, your presence and availability means more than you know.
Youth worker, mother of two
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