Let's Connect

Let's Connect  w

by Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D.

    How was your day?


What did you learn in school?


If you've had conversations like this with your adolescent, take heart - you're not alone. It happens all the time, particularly as kids enter their roller-coaster pre-teen years.

With all the physical, emotional and social changes your adolescent is going through, it's natural - and important - for you to want to keep up with what's happening. But that's not always easy. Sometimes it's hard to find the right opening, the right words or the right moment. You're busy, your child is busy, and there are lots of distractions to cut into your connection time. In fact, the recent Philips "Let's Connect" survey found that most pre-teens and parents spend less than an hour a day talking - many less than a half-hour.

But being a communication-friendly parent is crucial during this time of rapid change. Moreover, many of the communication patterns you and your child create today will be the ones you follow for the rest of your lives. This guide, part of the Philips "Let's Connect" series on family communication, has a few suggestions that may help make it easier for you and your child to connect by making the most of whatever time you have together.

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Sometimes the hardest thing about getting your child to open up is getting started. If you want to start a conversation with your child:

ASK IF IT'S OKAY. A simple question like "Is this a good time to talk?" can get the ball rolling. If your child says "no," come back with a quick follow-up: "Well, when would be?" If your child can't think of a good time to talk, just set one up anyway.

SET A GOOD EXAMPLE. Want to know how your child's day was? Show your child how to talk about his or her day by first talking about your day and then asking them about theirs.

ASK FOR HELP. Kids love to teach adults-especially their parents. It makes them feel good about themselves and more comfortable talking. Just make sure it's a real request for help and not an order to do a chore.

PLAN SOMETHING. Whether it's a family vacation, visit to a family member, shopping trip or even something as simple as choosing a video to watch, kids like to be involved and feel like their opinions count.

MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR CHILD'S STYLE. For example, while many girls this age are comfortable just sitting down with a parent and talking, boys are often less self-conscious talking to a parent if they're also sharing an activity such as playing a game of catch or building a model.



ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS - Sometimes we make it easy for pre-teens to keep quiet by asking vague questions that can be answered with a simple "yes," "no," or "I don't know." One of the secrets of getting kids to open up is asking the right kind of questions - specific questions that need more than a one-word answer. For example, instead of asking "How was school today?" try something like "What do you think about your history teacher?" or "What did you do today that you were proud of?" If your child gives you a one-word answer, say "Tell me more."

BE APPROACHABLE - Teens and pre-teens who have something important to talk to you about will often test the water by raising a less-threatening issue, even something that sounds trivial. Be patient, even if you don't understand why your child's talking about a particular topic. If your child's comfortable talking to you about the small stuff, he or she is much more likely to talk about the big stuff.

SEIZE THE MOMENT - Pay attention to teachable moments that occur throughout the day and that can trigger important conversations. For example, use events that happen on your child's favorite television shows to begin conversations about peer pressure or sexual relationships. Your child will be more comfortable talking about these issues this way than if you raised them out of the blue.

LISTEN EFFECTIVELY - Effective listening skills include rephrasing your child's comments to show you understand, paying close attention to your child's face and body language, and giving non-verbal support and encouragement. You should also encourage your child to keep talking by saying things like, "How do you feel about that?"

ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE - Remember that children this age are very sensitive to ridicule or embarrassment. Let your children know how proud you are that they have the maturity to talk to you about their lives and their concerns. That will help them feel comfortable talking to you.


Nothing makes connecting easier than a shared activity you both enjoy. It helps create the time for communication and gives you a common memory to talk about later.

SHARE A HOBBY - Exploring an interest that you can both enjoy, whether it's rollerblading or fashion, can result in hours of naturally-flowing conversation.

LOOK AT BABY PICTURES - A walk down memory lane is a great way to bring up otherwise awkward topics including the many physical and emotional changes that occur throughout your child's life.

MAKE CAR TIME CONVERSATION TIME - The moments you have together alone in the car can help you share important information and emotions. You can also learn a lot about your child if you pay attention to his or her conversations with friends while they're riding in the back seat.

SHARE EXPERIENCES - Several times a year, when your child's reading a particular novel for school, buy your own copy and read it as well. Use it as a trigger for talking about your lives. Remember, you're not trying to teach your child how to be a better English student! You're just trying to talk.

SEE YOUR CHILD AS OTHERS DO - Many parents only see their children when they're at home. Get involved with your child's school. Volunteer to help with extracurricular programs, such as theater or sports. You may discover new and wonderful aspects to your child that you otherwise would have missed.

Parents Mini-Survey | Kids Mini-Survey | Comparing Answers

Communication Tips for Kids | Communication Tips for Parents

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