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What to do when your child refuses to communicate with you

As parents, we often find ourselves worried that our children—in particular our teenagers—aren’t always telling us the truth about how they feel or what’s going on in their lives. We want to know these things because we understand that our children aren’t yet fully prepared either physically or emotionally to handle certain things on their own. The problem is that our children sometimes shut down and rather than talking to us about what’s going on, they instead attempt to deal with the problem on their own. This is neither safe nor healthy, and the time has come to deal with this very serious issue head on.

I know something’s wrong

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Parents know their children better than anyone. With that said, every parent can tell when there is something wrong with their child. If a child is typically chatty but comes home from school and refuses to talk and only wants to hang out in their room alone, then be suspicious. Unfortunately, we are living in an era where bullying is a real issue in schools. We have to make sure that our children are not attempting to hide their pain of being bullied from us. Sometimes, when a child is being harassed at school, they will shut down for fear of making their situation worse. This is why we must let our kids know that they can talk with us without worrying that they will somehow exacerbate their situation.

How can I get my kid to talk to me?

It doesn’t really matter how old your child is when it comes to their being frightened, nervous, anxious, or simply upset and refusing to communicate. When a child shuts down, it’s just a matter of how you can assure them that they can talk with you about their feelings. Pathways is a non-profit organization that understands the seriousness of having a child that refuses to communicate their feelings due to fear. In addressing this issue, the organization created tips for comforting a fearful or nervous child so that you can eventually have a child that will open up and communicate their feelings with you. According to Pathways, the first step in dealing with your child’s inability or refusal to speak about their problems is to simply ‘be there’ for them. By remaining in their presence, you are telling your child that you are available if and when they are prepared to communicate. Second, it is suggested that you avoid your need to get overly involved. If your child knows that you are available when they are ready to communicate, then don’t begin bugging them about their need to address their issues right away. When you push your child to discuss something before they are ready to do so, you only add more stress into their lives.

Additional suggestions for getting your child to speak to you when they are upset involves your allowing your child to express themselves. Even if they can’t necessarily speak about their feelings, you can have them explain things in other ways. If you have a small child, simply have them draw a picture or use their toys to explain how they feel. Also, fight your need to be overly reassuring. When you continue to tell your child that “things will be okay” you are inadvertently telling them that things are not okay presently. If you don’t know what’s going on, do your best to focus on getting them to communicate rather than getting them to feel better.

Finally, focus on your being patient throughout the process. You can’t and shouldn’t force your child to tell you what’s going on right away. If you are patient, and you let your children know that you are there for them when they are ready to communicate, then your child will both learn how to deal with their issues on their own prior to running to you and they will trust that they can come to you with their problems.

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About Audra L.

Audra L. is an author, columnist and community activist who's dedicated to finding truth through research and effective communication. She received her degree in Public Policy and teaches Community Development, Public Speaking and Communications Law to youth throughout the nation. She is the recipient of over 23 awards and honors for her commitment to community outreach initiatives.

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