When your teen isn’t big on verbalizing feelings and thoughts, you have to work that much harder to ensure that she feels comfortable expressing herself to you. Perhaps she’s shy, embarrassed or private, or she’s angry and not verbalizing is her way of dealing with anger. According to child behavioral therapist James Lehman (1946-2010), at the Empowering Parents website, your teen feels she has the power when she shuts you out. You should not take her lack of verbalization personally, but you also should not encourage it, regardless of what her silence stems from.
Stop pushing your teen to talk to you, advises psychologist and author Carl Pickhardt at Carlpickhardt.com. When you push your teen to verbalize, you are likely making circumstances worse than they already are. For example, when your teen doesn’t seem to want to talk to you about his obvious state of stress or upset, telling him that you’re the parent and you demand he tell you what is bothering him is only going to push you further away. Instead, tell him that you are here for him if he needs to talk, whenever that is. It lets him know you care about him and that you aren’t going to push him to talk before he is ready.
Put down whatever it is you are doing and listen to your teen when she makes the effort to talk to you, advises Laura Markham, mom and psychologist on her website, Aha Parenting. Teens who do not like to verbalize aren’t going to give you the option to finish up whatever it is you are in the middle of doing so you can talk later. Even if what you’re doing is time-sensitive, stop doing it and listen when she makes the effort to talk. Knowing that you are willing to listen at any time might make her more willing to verbalize her feelings to you more regularly.
Ask your teen questions that require more in-depth answers than a simple yes or no. According to Markham, that's a good way to help your teen learn to verbalize. For example, if you ask him what he learned at school today versus how school was today, you are not giving him the opportunity to simply say, “Fine,” before heading up to his room and closing the door on you. You’re ensuring he has to think about the question and provide you with a thoughtful answer.
Tell your teen that her decision not to verbalize her feelings to you means you have to use your imagination and assumptions to provide answers about her life, and she might not like what you come up with. According to Pickhardt, doing this gives your teen the knowledge that her silence is not welcome, without you resulting to prying. For example, tell her that her sudden bad grades and school performance concerns you, but her lack of desire to talk to you about it leaves you feeling like she has something to hide, and that as a result of your ignorance, you have to come up with some form of discipline, which she might not find fair. Perhaps her lack of verbalization regarding her bad grades makes you suspect she is using drugs and you feel the only way to handle it is to take away her driver’s license and her spending money. However, her bad grades might be the result of her frustration understanding the subject.
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