Engaging in Purposeful Communication with Kids/Teens

This article is part of an ongoing agency focus on crime prevention and community education in Charlotte County.

This article is authored by Danielle Bishop, a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern at Southwest Florida Counseling Center.

Engaging in purposeful communication with kids and teens can be difficult given the day and age we are in with technology, social anxiety, and societal roles. Most adults/parents are not sure how to even approach the conversation that will be enticingly meaningful so they can keep somewhat “in the know” along with having the child/teen feel understood and validated too. First, it is important to understand the thought process of the child and/or teen which includes, but is not limited to: Adults/parents always overreact; How can you be so nosey and intrusive?; How can you possibly imagine how my life feels?; When can I get back to what I was doing?; Adult/parent always wanting to get so deep, personal or bring up how we feel.

In order to get around these predetermined mindsets, the teen/child have already we need to have engaging conversation tips such as:

•    Giving compliments

•    Asking refined open-ended questions whenever possible- Making your questions require a little more than just a “yes” or “no” answer

•    Ask for their opinion

•    Ask for their advice or recommendation

•    Ask a question that is easy to answer

•    Comment on the environment (weather music, etc.)-This keeps the conversation in a neutral position

•    Ask for an update – Maybe their friend had a cold so you can stem the conversation from there

•    Ask a hypothetical question

•    Ask about pets or hobbies

•    Let them take the lead of the conversation and see where it goes

•    Keep it short and simple

In doing this, you can avoid a lot of the “how not to’s” such as:

•    Lecturing – Teens are more likely to talk if they are not always getting a lecture. Every parent says 50% more than they should…remember when you were a teen and your parents lectured at you? And you thought “stop, I already get the point!” Use that knowledge!

•    Wrong timing – When do you have time for just the two of you? Drive time can be a good time to connect. Others might be more talkative after dark when they have wound down.

•    Noticing they are not receptive to talking-even though most of us are tired by the end of the day, most teens have a likelihood of being more open to a conversation around the evening hours

•    Taking things personally – Try not to internalize what the child/teen is saying because defensiveness does not foster an open space for talking. Instead, be persistent in your efforts to talk to them and taking cues from them.

•    Questioning that becomes interrogation-like/judging-the moment they begin to fear you are questioning to judge them they most likely will shut down. Be patient and try to listen rather than trying to jump in with a comment/thought.

Some of these tips might sound counter-intuitive at times. However, actively listen to what the child/teen is saying, drawing questions, nodding, or just saying simple supportive comments will go a long way with them. Most times children/teens just want to feel validated and heard, which DOES NOT mean you agree with everything they are saying. Rather, you are making a conscious effort to understand their perspective to create a more open bond with them so that deep, productive conversations can happen especially when you may not see eye-to-eye.

Here at Southwest Florida Counseling Center we work with a range of ages in individual, family, and group therapy to help in promoting healthy and effective communication habits. If interested in services, please call 941-249-4354 or visit our website www.swfcc.net for more information.

The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office requested Danielle Bishop provide this guest blog after she presented on the topic at a Drug Free Punta Gorda coalition meeting. Open communication with your children can provide you the opportunity to intervene before they engage in what could be dangerous behavior, such as meeting a stranger online.

If you have questions specific to the points in her blog, please contact Danielle Bishop directly (contact information provided above).

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