Getting tweens to talk about their day
Remember when your little one would bounce home after school, telling you all about the pictures she’d drawn and the friends she’d played with?
Now she’s hit her tweens, you’re more likely to be getting one-word answers at best – maybe even eye contact if you’re lucky. Try not to take it personally; your tween is not the first to do it and she certainly won’t be the last!
But it can be frustrating as a parent when all you want to know is how her day went, and to engage in a bit of conversation, but the only response is “meh”, “alright”, “usual”. So here are some tips for talking to a reluctant tween:
Avoid bombarding them
The first point to consider is the timing for starting a conversation. If she’s just come out of school, she’s likely to be tired and, between worrying about the exam she took today and an argument with her friend, she’s likely to have a lot of thoughts flying around her head. Asking questions at this point will make her feel overrun, so you’re more likely to have success after she’s had a bit of time to herself. Remember that tweens like their privacy, so if she’s not opening up, don’t pressure her.
Make yourself available
When your children become old enough to pretty much take care of themselves, it can be easy to spend less time together. You might have a career, be taking care of the housework, or have your own hobbies. From your tween’s point of view, all of this may make you appear unavailable if they do want to talk.
There are a lot of ways you can show that you are there for them, but it does require you to be flexible with your time. We’re not saying your life should revolve around theirs, but if she seems ready for a chat just as you’re doing the laundry, or just before bed, consider putting things on hold to make the most of the opportunity; this will help her feel like you have time for her. Some of the best heart-to-hearts happen over a midnight snack.
Spend time together
This isn’t just about the conversations you are or are not having – at this age, it’s important to build a close relationship so that your tween feels like she has someone to confide in. Spending time together means conversations can happen spontaneously, rather than her feeling like she’s being questioned.
Phones and tablets can really get in the way of proper conversation, so aim to have some screen-free time for the whole family. Mealtimes are ideal for this – if your family doesn’t usually eat together, try starting off with one or two family meals a week.
A really nice way to spend time together is to find an activity you both enjoy – this could be something as simple as a cup of tea and a TV show you both like, or a hobby such as swimming or golf. Again, this lets your tween have you to themselves for a bit (if you have more than one child, try to spend some alone time with each of them) when they can open up. You can also make the most of daily activities like doing the laundry, or being their taxi service, for a quick one-to-one.
Think about how you ask the questions…
Try to use open-ended questions; instead of “How was school today?” ask “What did you do at school today?” Aim for specific questions too, such as asking about a particular subject they enjoy or a teacher they don’t like, so they know you’ve been paying attention to their lives. Tweens can become defensive very easily, so avoid making them feel interrogated – for example, ask “what?” rather than “why?” questions.
If she’s not answering your questions, take the lead and talk about how your day went. Remember that you are her role model – if you start sharing your day with her, she’s more likely to do the same back.
…And how you react to the answers
As a parent, you will just want to fix all of your tween’s problems. The problem is that what you see as helping, she will see as a lack of trust – it gives the impression that you don’t think she can handle things on her own. If she asks for advice then by all means provide it – but usually, tweens just want someone who will listen while they vent.
It’s also really important to avoid criticising or judging what she says, because she’s more likely to talk to you again in the future. Be open and reflective; listen to what she says and respond with appropriate questions.
The tween and teen years are a tricky time for any parent – kids want their independence but they still need you to be there for them (even though they probably won’t admit it!). These tips should help get conversation going, but it also takes patience and catching your tween in the right mood, so don’t get disheartened if it doesn’t always work. Also remember that every tween is different – what works with one of your kids might not work with their sibling(s).
Being reluctant to chat to a parent is fairly common in adolescence, but if you are worried that there’s something more serious going on (for example, that your child is being bullied, or suffering from a mental health problem) speak to their school or GP. You can also contact NSPCC.
Tags: advice, children, parents, teenager
This post was written by Anna Taylor