Break the Communication Logjam
These days, parenting a teen feels harder than ever. You aim for connection, yet conversation often disintegrates into confrontation. You try to set reasonable limits, but it's a struggle to make the rules up quickly enough. How can you stay close to a child who is alternately moody, infuriating, and silent? A child for whom the simple question "How was your day?" may be too intrusive?
Books build bridges between people, and reading together is still one of the best ways to impart values as well as share ideas and feelings with your child. The trick is finding a way to get a conversation going. These tips may help:
- Remember that bonding with an older child is more complex than with an infant. Very young children drain our stamina; older ones challenge our minds and spirits. However, it's never too late to repair and strengthen a fraying bond and fall in love with your child over and over again. Make it a habit to share your feelings — about your day, how you felt when you were your child's age.
- Grab a book, magazine, or newspaper and read quietly next to your child while she does her homework. You can't legislate closeness, but you can be physically and emotionally available when a taciturn preteen decides to open up. Sometimes, just being quiet together can set the stage for a good chat.
- Talk about books you're reading and those you'd like to read. Parents need to inspire, not push. If your child sees you reading and hears you talking about it, she'll be more likely to pick up a book in the first place, as well as share her own ideas. Let her, even if some opinions seem off the wall.
- Ask what's going on in school. Steer clear of questions that can be answered in monosyllables. Aim instead for those that provoke discussion: What authors are you reading in English class? Who is your favorite? How far have you gotten in your unit on the Vietnam War?
- Read what he's reading. Books allow you to connect with your child in ways that might otherwise feel forced or awkward. If she's reading Catcher in the Rye for English, buy another copy and read along. Discussing Holden Caulfield's dilemmas may lead to an honest, open airing of issues she's wrestling with too.
- Fill your home with reading material. Magazines, poetry, even crossword-puzzle books count. Don't forget audio books your child might want to listen to in the car or while she's doing chores.
- Start reading aloud again. Just because you stopped doesn't mean it has to be gone forever. You may get a few groans, but be persistent. Pick a regular time of day and read for 15 minutes (a chapter at a time of a book that's several notches above your child's own reading level). You'll probably be asked to do more.
- Start a book club with your child and other families. The 7th grader who balks at reading a book may be more inclined to pick it up if friends are doing the same.