Talking With Your Tween / 5 steps to better conversations with your tween

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Laura Reagan-Porras
UPDATED
August 27, 2013
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Talking to your kids about school, healthy habits, peer pressure, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll is a lot to tackle during the tween years. As a sociologist and a mother, I have learned a few conversation strategies that have helped me communicate with my daughter. The following five strategies in particular have become a natural part of parenting for me:
 
1. Open-ended questions
Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a one-word response like “yes” or “no.” Open-ended questions invite more discussion. When I want to know what is going on with my daughter Grace, I ask her open-ended questions like these:    
 
  • How is Amy (Grace’s best friend) doing?
  • Tell me what you like about social studies class.
  • Tell me what you don’t like about your math class.
      
2. Restatement
When there is a natural pause in her conversation with me, I simply repeat the last few words of her last sentence. It may feel mechanical at first but it shows your teen that you are really listening and want to hear more.
 
3. Confirmation of meaning
Don’t assume understanding with your tween – check it out. This step requires a little bravery because I risk rejection, and if she is particularly hormonal or in a rebellious or angry mood, it can hurt. Being willing to check out my interpretation with Grace shows my vulnerability. Over the years, I’ve seen her respond by opening up more.
 
4. Summarizing
When the conversation starts winding down, summarize the essence of the conversation to confirm meaning and build trust. This may be the hardest part of active listening but skills grow with practice.
 
5. “I”-Messages
“I”-Messages communicate my feelings and values to my daughter about a behavior without preaching or giving advice. Examples of “I”-Messages are:
 
  • I feel glad when you open up to me.
  • I feel disappointed for you that you misplaced your homework.
 
Here is a sample conversation that puts the steps together.  
 
Mom:  “Tell me about Amy” (Open ended question)
Grace: “She’s okay but she’s always with her new boyfriend Matt now. He’s cool but they are just so in to each other.”
Mom:  “So, they are really into each other?” (Restatement)
Grace: “Yeah, I feel like the third wheel on a lopsided tricycle.  It sort of makes me mad.”
Mom: “You are angry because you feel left out?” (Confirmation of meaning)
Grace:  “Yes, especially at lunch.” 
Mom:  “What can you do about that?” (Open–ended question)
Grace:  “I guess I could go eat at Elizabeth and Lilian’s table.
Mom:  You feel left out because of how Amy and Matt relate to each other, especially at lunch.  But you are willing to eat with other friends. (Summarizing)
Grace:  Yes, but I really miss Amy.
Mom:  I know you miss your private time with Amy but I am really proud of you for trying new things. (“I”-Message)
Grace:  Thanks Mom.
 
David Brashear, a licensed clinical social worker who works with tweens and parents, states that parents who take the time to learn and practice these skills reap rewards beyond measure. He shares that parent-tween bonds strengthen, joint problem solving occurs more readily and risky teen behavior improves when parents practice these skills. As a parent, I simply enjoy the closeness and trust that comes from many conversations with these five simple communication steps.
 
Laura Reagan-Porras, MS, is a sociologist and a parenting journalist.  More importantly, she is a mother of two who practices communication strategies with tweens daily.
 
Published September 2013

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