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Communication tip: how to keep kids and teens talking 

How to talk to kids and teenagers is something that frequently comes up in our practice. Parents and adults often report that they feel like they say the wrong thing.

Today’s newsletter is about a three-word phrase that should be part of your arsenal of communication tools. It’s helpful in endless situations and while we’re talking about it in the context of communicating with kids and teenagers, it can really be used with anyone.  

So, what is this phrase?

“tell me more”

When you say “tell me more” you communicate several things: 1- you are invested and want the conversation to continue; 2- you can handle what they are telling you. 

Think of a time your child says something upsetting. For example, let's say that your family is expecting a baby and your child isn't so sure. Often, adults will respond with something along the lines of “you don’t mean that” which either results in completely ending the conversation or a screaming child.  Alternatively, “tell me more” will keep the conversation going, allow your child to hopefully share more thoughts and feelings about this big family change and provide you with important information that can help the transition.

Your child says: “I don’t want a baby brother.” 

Conversation killer: “Yes you do! It will be so fun to have a baby brother.”

Conversation starter: “Tell me more.” or "You don't want a little brother. Tell me more" 

Next, let’s think of a time that your teenager tells you something scary that their peers are up to. It might be really hard to avoid trying to make a limit about that type of behavior, which leads your teen to just stop talking and feel unheard. If, instead, you say “tell me more” you might learn a lot about your teenager’s perspective on this behavior (e.g., maybe they are worried about their peer, maybe they are worried about getting into trouble or, maybe this was a test about how you would respond because they want to talk to you about vaping in general or share that they tried it).

Your teenager says: “My friend has been vaping in the bathroom at school.” 

Conversation killer: “You better not be vaping with them.” 

Conversation starter: “Tell me more” or “What do you think about that?” 

Let's be honest, sometimes you might not want to keep a conversation going - I’m specifically thinking about if a kiddo is completely dysregulated and they are yelling things like “you hate me” or “no one in this family loves me” which can be really hard to hear and even harder not to respond to. In that case, I would suggest that you do not take the bait. And, you can read all about that here

While we’re talking about communication, here’s another post about with a communication tip: but or and

Thanks for reading! 

Dr. Kate 


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