How to have a great conversation

View from behind of father and daughter in kitchen

Sometimes communicating with teenagers can be tricky. The following tips might help you to keep the channels of communication open with your child:

  • Make time and space to talk, get comfy, remove distractions such as phones, and have eye contact. These all signal that you are present, you want to listen, and you are ‘there for them’.

  • You don't need to fix their problem or make them feel better; you just need to listen. Try not to judge what they are saying. Just nod and say things like, 'Ok', 'Ah ha', 'Yeah'. This will let them know that you're listening positively and will encourage them to keep talking.

  • Be empathetic.

  • Talk often.

Make time and space to talk

Here are some conversation starters for teens:

  • 'Is there something that you'd like some help with?'

  • 'Ok, I'm here for you, what's up?'

  • If you have an inkling what they want to talk about, introduce the topic like this,'I've noticed you seem a bit stressed, is there something worrying you?'

You don't need to fix their problem

Help your child come to a solution by themselves

We all sometimes just need to ‘vent’, get stuff off our chests, whinge, complain, or let our family know we’ve had a bad day. We don’t need anyone to give us a solution or to ‘fix’ a problem; we just need someone to remind us that we are loved and supported. Your child needs the same opportunity; they may feel alone, frustrated, overwhelmed or upset, and they just need to feel loved and supported.

If you feel the urge to suggest a solution, to give them a lecture, or to try and solve their problem for them, try saying instead:

  • 'That sounds tough, do you want help to find a solution or do you just need to get it off your chest?'

  • 'How did that make you feel?'

  • 'And then what happened?'

Allowing your child to talk through problems will give them an opportunity to use you as a sounding board. Unless they ask for your advice, encourage them to work through the problem themselves. This will help them take responsibility for their actions.

Be empathetic

Learning how to talk so teens will listen starts with demonstrating empathy where you are able to put yourself in your child’s position and understand the situation from their point of view. Your child will keep coming to you to help them work through problems, and to talk about things, if you make it clear that you are on their side, even when they’ve made a mistake. You can do this by saying things like:

  • 'I can see why you're so (frustrated, sad, annoyed).'

  • 'How did you feel about that? Yeah I think I would have felt like that too.'

  • 'Why do you think (the other person) did/said that?'

Talk often

Take the opportunity to really check in with your child every day about the little things that are going on in their life. By remaining positively engaged in their life, it will be easier to have difficult conversations when the need arises. If your child can trust you to ‘be there for them’, to listen to, love and support them, then they are much more likely to see you as someone to turn to first when they need help in working through bigger problems. Your relationship will be built on trust and open, honest communication. Enjoy getting to know your child as the interesting and maturing person they are becoming.