Help! My Child Isn’t Talking To Me!

25 June 2012


Parents and adolescents sometimes find themselves in conflict when communicating. It could result in the child not talking to the parent. Or it could get to the point where all conversations erupt into arguments and screaming matches. What can a parent do when they just can’t talk to their child?

Authors, trainers and husband and wife team, Jamilah Samian and Ahmad Fakhri Hamzah, share their thoughts on how parents can overcome conflicts and the problem of the child who doesn’t want to talk to you.

They’re not kids anymore

Jamilah says that parents sometimes forget that the children are growing up and continue talking to them as if they are still toddlers or preschoolers.

“Over time, we develop certain patterns of talking with each of our children. Sometimes we have a habit of maintaining that pattern regardless of the fact that they are growing and changing. Children are always changing and we may not be aware of that change, so we stick to our old style, which might not be suitable for their developmental stage. Actually, the more they grow up, the less we should talk and the more we listen.

“In the beginning, when they are small, we set the rules and tell them what to do. But it should be done less and less as they grow up because as they grow up they need autonomy and they need to think for themselves. At some point in time, they might feel too much pressure is being put on them,” says Jamilah.

Non-approachable dad

Ahmad adds that sometimes dads appear to be unapproachable, especially if he is an authority figure and uses fewer words and a firm tone.

“If you have not inculcated a culture of communication, it will be tough to now speak to your children. This is exacerbated if, because of work pressure, you work from morning to night. When do you have time to speak to your children? If that has been going on, your children won’t feel the relationship as there is no more connection.

“It’s a phenomenon that fathers have so many things clouding their brain and that’s why they become blinkered and don’t really communicate with their children.

“Parents are not taking that conscious effort. Sometimes they think because they are older and they brought the child into the world, the child therefore needs to respect and listen to what they say, and not the other way around,” says Ahmad.

He’s not talking to me

According to Jamilah, parents sometimes make the mistake of assuming that everything is all right and that the kids are big enough to solve their own problems, even if the child is suddenly not talking to them.

It could be that the child has tried talking to you but you brushed it off.

If that is the case, the child might not want to bring his or her problems to you.

“Your initial reaction to what he says may make him think many times before he brings up the subject again. While you don’t want to go to one extreme of not caring, you also need to be careful not to go to the other extreme where you care too much about something to the point of being overly involved or intrusive. This will make your child feel uneasy, because they do want and need to have autonomy,” she says.

However, it could also just be the child’s nature to keep things to themselves.

According to Jamilah, some adolescents go through a period where they keep to themselves because they are trying to find their own identity and doing a lot of self-reflection; he or she might want to resolve problems and issues himself or herself.

When to probe and when to let it go?

Rather than questioning what is the problem, parents can just spend time with that child and talk to them casually about other things. If the child wants to talk about the problem, he or she probably will during the time spent together.

Jamilah and Ahmad say parents must remain calm in dealing with an emotional pre-teen or teenager.

Jamilah cautions parents against asking directly what’s wrong. This might make the child uncomfortable and they might ask you in return, “Why do you think that something is wrong with me?”

Ahmad explains that sons and daughters communicate differently. When daughters tell you about a problem, they are not always looking for a solution. Sometimes, they just want someone to listen.

“One day, my daughter told me about her presentation which didn’t go well. The projector didn’t work. Being a father and a problem-solver, I asked her ‘Did you check it before that?’ and suddenly she burst into tears.

“I sat back and realised she just wanted to tell me what happened. The situation was already bad enough and I just made it worse.

“That’s what men do to their daughters, wives and sons, even. They go in and instinctively want to fix things.

“Fathers have to remember that daughters and wives just want you to listen, empathise, understand and hold them until they ask ‘What do you think?’ which is when you step in and offer suggestions,” advises Ahmad.

Critical stage

While some pre-teens and adolescents may turn sullen and stop talking to their parents, there is the other extreme. This is where the child starts raising his or her voice and this eventually turns into shouting or screaming.

If it gets to the point where your child is screaming and shouting every time you try to talk to him or her, there could be three possibilities:

1) It is a mental condition.
If it is a mental condition then you would need a doctor or medical professional to help her or him.

2) Over time he or she has developed that habit.
If the child has somehow developed that pattern of behaviour, then it is something that the parents can do something about.

“For me, if a child develops this pattern of behaviour, it is just like a child throwing a tantrum or sulking. It doesn’t matter if you are three years old or 13. The child has to learn that this is not something that works,” says Jamilah.

The parent needs to remain calm and tell them that you will talk to them when they are calmer.

Says Jamilah:

“It could be that the hormones in puberty are making the child emotional. In calmer moments, you really need to sit down and find out what actually is the problem.

“It is especially difficult for single mothers as the kids are going through adolescence and there’s no male figure in the home.

“If you are not sure whether you should react or if you are overeacting, sometimes you just need to talk to the child when she is calm and tell her what is on your mind. Be honest and say, ‘I don’t know everything, but I love you and I want to do this to the best of my ability. Because I am human, I don’t know the best thing to do now although I am trying my best, so sometimes what I do may not seem like the best thing to you but I do this because I want the best for you. In my heart of hearts, I hope that you forgive me if in trying to be the best mother/father to you, I make mistakes, but I’m really trying my best and I am no angel; I have my limitations.’ ”

Jamilah admits to sometimes doing this with her children. She believes it helps children grow up if they realise that their parents are human, too.

When communicating with adolescents, Jamilah advises parents to listen more than talk and don’t offer suggestions on what the child should do as that might just kill the conversation.

3) The child is just being rude.
If the child is just being rude, then the parent has to be firm in laying down the law. The child will have to learn what are the consequences to being rude to his or her parents.

Ahmad adds that parents should take a step back rather than react angrily in response to the shouting or screaming adolescent and pre-teen.

“You are supposed to be more mature, caring and benevolent. You cannot solve the issue based on a short-term approach using your authority. If you are a parent who is to be feared, you will frequently face confrontations with your children. It is easy to burn the bridge, but it takes a very long time to build that bridge.

“So, you need to start building that relationship, take the baby-steps approach and a lot of patience – that is the recipe to rebuild that relationship,” he adds.

Other channels

If you feel that you can’t talk to them face-to-face, you could use other channels – Facebook, texting and email. It needn’t be about the problem at hand or your strained relationship and communication breakdown; it could just be short love or positive messages to remind that child that you are thinking of her or him.

“If the relationship between the parent and the teenager is very strained at the moment, it’s going to take time for it to thaw out. One incident is not going to melt the ice. So, these are the little things that you can do – send messages, write handwritten notes and share inspirational quotes. It shows that you are thinking of him or her. That’s how you thaw out the ice and before you know it, one day the ice is melted.

“The cost of you not doing anything is that he or she is going to turn to other people for advice. This is a very basic need – to turn to people whom we trust for advice. The worst thing we can do is to push our children away from us because we are too proud to admit that we are human.

“At the same time you don’t want to overdo it by being a doormat to your children. They know when you are not being sincere.

“The message we want to send is ‘If I have done something wrong, then I’m sorry; but if you are just being plain rude, then I’m not a doormat to you,’ ” says Jamilah.

Another method that Jamilah suggests is talking to someone the child is close to or a teacher at school, without the child knowing, to find out if the child is okay.

You can also get a third party, like the other parent, to talk to the child just to find out if she is all right. The other parent will have to be very tactful and not reveal that you are probing.

Opportunity to teach

Jamilah says that if a child is not talking to the parent, then the parent should take it as an opportunity to raise him or her better, because as someone in their early teens there is still time.

“Imagine if she’s 20 years old or already 25 and she cannot effectively manage conflict with other people. Your job as a parent is to teach her that this is not the effective way of dealing with conflict. It is proven that people with a high emotional quotient are the ones who are actually very successful in life.

“No matter how high your IQ is, an EQ is something we can really nurture. So, rather than seeing it as a problem, see it as an opportunity to shape him or her,” says Jamilah optimistically.

Ahmad reminds parents that parenting shouldn’t be all about hardship, trouble, pain and with no joy.

“It shouldn’t be. It should be 80% happiness and 20% challenges. There are these struggles to make it worthwhile and give you a sense of satisfaction. I think, we must have that joy in the end that we have raised children who are contributing to society.

“Even if you have a breakdown in communication with your child, you cannot stop or give up. If you give up on your children, who else will want to take care of them? Do you think the teachers and the police won’t give up, too?”

* Jamilah Samian is the author of Cool Mum, Super Dad and Cool Boys Super Sons. She co-wrote The Groovy Guide to Parenting Gen Y and Z with husband Ahmad Fakhri Hamzah. The couple has six children.

About Jamilah Samian

Jamilah has written 540 articles.

Jamilah Samian is an author and speaker.

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