In preschool, children can’t wait to share with you just about everything they can remember about their school day. In elementary school, it isn’t everything, but important highlights from the day often find their way into dinner time conversation. At some point between the ages of 11 and 14, you will likely find that the conversation changes significantly. It may even feel as if an upset monosyllabic entity has taken up residence in your home.
Brain science shows us sound developmental reasons for this preteen behavior – neurons are pruned at a rate that can only be compared to toddlerhood, and hormones from puberty hit their strides. There are a number of ways to cope with adolescent changes as a family that can improve communication. However, the focus of this post is to keep things as simple as possible: Look for magic moments.
I’d like you to think back on the past month or two. When was communication with your adolescent better, even just a little bit better, for a short period of time? Was it at a particular time of day? Time of the week? During a particular activity? In a particular location? There’s a good chance that you already have an idea of when the magic moments of communication are most likely to occur. Those moments remind you vaguely of what communication used to be like, and also offer a window into what communication might be like on the other side of the adolescent storm. Each adolescent will open up at different times. Some of the most common magic moments are bedtime, while driving, when going for a walk, sharing a meal out or around the dinner table.
If the goal is to understand and be understood by your adolescent, the key to achieving this goal is to be aware of the best time to communicate and to use that time well. Let’s say that your son tends to open up as he’s getting ready for bed, whereas questions posed when he arrives home from school are met with a grunt. Rather than trying to force a conversation during “grunt times”, keep things simple – “We’ve got muffins in the fridge if you’re hungry – I’m going to the store, anything we need?” Then, as your son is winding down for the night, offer him your full attention. Ask him how his day was – who did he have lunch with, how’d that chemistry quiz go, what’s on the horizon for the weekend? You may just find yourself getting answers, and perhaps even being asked a question or two.
What about the times when the magic moment doesn’t work like it’s supposed to? You’ve waited until bedtime and still communication looks to be near impossible. In such cases, you’ve got some options. The first is to let it go for a day and try again tomorrow. A second is to offer a choice. For instance, you need your daughter’s thoughts on a big family decision and time is of the essence. Let your daughter know what you need to talk about and when you need to discuss it by, but acknowledge her feelings and try to give her a small choice: “Sorry Jane, I can tell that you’re not in the mood to talk tonight, but I’m going away on this trip tomorrow and we need to sit down and chat for a few minutes. Would it be better to talk now or better if I come back in fifteen minutes?” This shows your daughter that you acknowledge her mood, and that her perspective is important to you, which is sometimes all she needs.
As a parent, rather than lamenting the loss of one style of communication, this can be a chance to savor those times when communication does flow. It probably won’t be as often or as regular as you’d like, but by knowing when your child communicates best, you give them an opportunity to talk about things that are truly important to them in moments when they are physically and mentally able to.
This post originally appeared February 6 at http://sacac.sg/parenting-adolescents-magic-moments/