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In this line of work, we often hear frustrations from parents regarding what their kids are and are not doing. A common one is typically something along the lines of, “I can tell something is wrong, but they won’t talk to me about it!” It doesn’t seem to make sense, I know. You are their mom, or their dad, or any type of other trusted adult. So, when you are the person whose primary role is to care for them, why do kids not want to confide in you?
There isn’t one specific reason that applies to every family or every parent-child relationship. However, there are some common patterns.
I encourage you to look back on the last time your child tried to tell you something important. How did you react? What do you think your words sounded like to your child? It is very possible that, as an adult, you may know that a social issue with friends will pass so you encourage your child to brush it off, to not take things so personally. Sure, you may be right and two weeks from now the issue with the friend could be old news, but how do you think that sounded at the time? For many kids, it would have sounded like you were invalidating how much the situation was bothering them. Or perhaps they try to tell you something and you get mad at them and punish them for something, perhaps being on their phone past bedtime. These are things that send the message that your child can’t trust you with this type of information. Whether they can’t trust you with it because you don’t value it as they do, or because they don’t want to get in trouble, or some other reason.
It may help to try to control that knee-jerk reaction you have as a parent. Instead, focus on how you can communicate to your child that you are there, you are truly listening, and that they can talk to you without fear of consequences. That isn’t to say that there can’t be consequences when the situation warrants them. In those situations, give the consequence along with a conversation about why that consequence is necessary and what you hope they will learn from it.
All in all, having a relationship with your child that encourages them to confide in you is about meeting them where they are and allowing them to feel that you are a safe person to talk to. If you are struggling with that, don’t be afraid to ask your friendly Summit therapist about it.