How to Hear What Your Child is Really Saying

How to Hear What Your Child is Really Saying

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Updated on Sep 26, 2011

Does your child refuse to even look at you when something is bothering him let alone talk to you about it? Kids often pull the silent treatment when something's on their mind, and for parents, this can be a frustrating kind of exchange. Not to mention, parents are often left to guess at what's irking their child. But parents can take comfort in the fact that they're not alone when it comes to this kind of communication (or lack there of) with their kid.

Selena George, program manager of PET (Parent Effectiveness Training), explains that children sometimes express their problems as anger or fear, by saying things like “I hate you!” or by avoiding a situation all together. George explains that the goal of communicating with children should be to “peel off the layers of anger and fear until you can figure out what they’re really feeling" and get at the core of what's truly bothering them.

Never fear! Luckily there are things you can do to help you crack the proverbial code of kids' feelings. Here are some tips to try out:

Reading Between the Lines

As with anyone else, body language is key when it comes to understanding what your child is saying and not saying. When your child is talking about a problem he may have, or if he seems troubled about something, be sure to pay attention to his body language and listen carefully to whatever he says to you. If your child is pushing his pasta around on his plate during dinner, sitting with his shoulders slumped while staring at a wall, and answering all questions with “Yeah, whatever” (assuming that this isn’t your teen’s normal response to any given question, of course!), you’ll know that there’s a problem. Reading your child's body language can be the first step in identifying if something's bothering him.


Keep in mind that watching body language and listening carefully to muttered words is important during the conversation process as well, so don’t stop looking out for physical cues once you’ve already initiated the conversation.


Mirroring the Emotion

If you’ve noticed that your child is unhappy or behaving differently than usual, or if you know something happened in your child’s life that may have upset her, try mirroring the emotion back at her by naming it and calling her attention to it. For example, you might say gently, “You haven’t eaten a bite of dinner, and your face looks worried about something” or “Losing a game can be frustrating, even when you know you gave it your all.” This will open the door for your child to talk about whatever is bothering her.

Keep in mind that this isn't a surefire way to avoid a door slam in the face. If your child responds with something like, “I don’t want to talk about it,” or “You have no idea what you’re talking about,” back off and give her some space. It may take several conversations for your child to feel fully comfortable discussing a problem with you. Express your understanding of your child’s position and your willingness to talk. “No problem. I’m here if you ever need me.”

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