Talking to Your Middle-Schooler

The top-three mistakes parents make

Avoid these conversational pitfalls to improve communication with your child.

When you’re ready to sit down and have a chat with your adolescent — whether it's to find out how his day went or to discuss more serious topics like homework, his behavior, or his friends — there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to do it. And if you happen to try the latter, you may well run smack-dab into a dead end.

Trying to maintain and build a relationship with your middle-schooler is crucial to surviving the often-rocky teen years. And just as you know not to run headlong at a skittish cat, there are wrong ways to approach preteens and young teens:

  1. Waiting for a crisis. When tensions are high, your child is not going to be in a position to open up to you. Engage early and often, before there is a problem. This way you will develop a rapport with your child that will be very important when an actual crisis arises. “Remember, it’s impossible to build a bridge in the middle of a quake, but a bridge built earlier may be flexible and sturdy enough to ward off a quake when it comes,” says Ceranoglu. “A relationship is just like that. Its foundation and flexible nature are important ingredients of happiness.”

  2. Taking the too-direct approach. You’re probably not going to get a lot out of your child if you say, “Let’s sit down and talk.” Instead, do something together your child likes and let the conversation happen. Spending more time with him now will help build the bridges you’ll need later. “Your consistent presence in your child’s life will help your child feel comfortable with talking to you if something bothers him,” says Ceranoglu.

  3. Letting the opportunity pass. Your child may seem to be always pushing you away, but that doesn’t mean he really wants you to disappear! Be vigilant about observing his mood, and approach him when you see a chance to talk or do something together.

What works!
Even if you manage to avoid these common mistakes, your child may still not be a little chatterbox, but that’s normal. All you can do is let him know that you are around and ready whenever he is, and be prepared to drop whatever you’re doing when your child wants to talk. Don’t worry, you won’t have to keep dropping things for the rest of your life, because once your child is convinced of your genuine interest, you will have built a relationship that encourages true communication.