Chapter Four: Encourage your Child to Talk to You and Share Potentially Important Information

Establishing and maintaining open dialogue with your child is the first and most valuable step in encouraging them to talk to you and share important information in their lives.

Building a trusting relationship with your children

Building a trusting relationship with your child is not necessarily easy, and trying to get them to share the things going on in their lives with you can be even harder. This is why establishing an open and welcoming environment with your child from the beginning stages of their life is essential. With an open and supportive environment, children are less intimidated and more likely to discuss issues and topics in their lives. This type of sharing serves as a building block for times when your child needs to discuss more serious issues, and for when you need to bring up the topic of sex and sexual abuse.

Another good technique in asking your children these types of inquisitive questions is asking in nonjudgmental ways, using "I." As children get older and become adolescents and teenagers, they tend to become more defensive and less open to answering questions about themselves. Implementing techniques such as this one lets your child know that you are not shaming them or judging them, but instead you are discussing your feelings maturely with them. That way, children feel less pressure to answer your questions and concerns. An example of an "I" question can be something such as, "I’m interested in your life and I want to make sure you are happy and comfortable. How can I help?" These types of questions help the child feel comfort and support, making them less intimidated and more eager to gush out feelings when a parent is concerned. This is the opposite of placing the burden of guilt on the child with a question such as, "Someone told me you did something, is this true?" This type of question can make the child feel as if he or she is "on the spot," and will make them less likely to respond with the truth, if at all.

These types of questions are important in everyday settings, as it is widely known that more than half of sexual predators and abusers are people that the children know and are close to. Taking the feeling of blame off the children and opening up the conversation will make them feel less intimidated in answering questions or telling you about people that you both may know. This is especially true if you have already established a supportive and nonjudgmental approach with them, letting them know that you will not get angry with them for telling you such information.

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Establish an open relationship with your teenager

As children get older and begin to transition into their teenage years, they begin to feel a sense of "independence" and a feeling that they can conquer the world on their own without anybody’s help, including their parents. Try to maintain and establish an open relationship with your teenager so that almost any time and place can be a good opportunity to ask questions. This is the age that puberty begins to set in, and children may feel uncomfortable answering or even asking you questions about their growth. If you create open dialogue with nonjudgmental views and behaviors, your teen will be less reluctant to tell you what is going on in their life. Teens feel more comfortable telling things to their friends, so if you begin to take on the friendship and supporting role with your child, they will be encouraged to talk to you. Being open with your teen yourself can help them feel a sense comfort and willingness to reciprocate and share things with you of their own accord.

Talking to Kids about Sex

As some parents may feel uncomfortable sharing details with their teenagers about sex or sexual abuse, they veer towards telling teens that "sex is bad," or they may even ignore the subject altogether. That is the opposite of what you should do with teenagers. Opening up the conversation to discuss real-life situations and circumstances can help your teens to feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics with you. A parent can open up the conversation with a soft subject such as, "how are things with your boyfriend (or girlfriend)? Are you feeling comfortable with them?" If they don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend, you can ask them how things are going at school with their friends, or see if they have interacted with any adults you might not know about.

As all teens mature differently, some may feel pressured to behave in more sexualized patterns than they’re comfortable with. It is important to reassure your child that it is completely normal and alright to be less interested in sex than their peers may be. Discuss with them the dangers of sexual pressures and circumstances of engaging in risky behaviors that they do not wish to participate in. Again, being open with your teens about real-life situations will help them understand the dangers and be more willing to ask and answer questions with you.

All of this advice may seem easier said than done – especially when you have a stubborn teenager at home. If you have a teenager, here are some quick tips from Talk Line for Parents to help you try to reach them:

Although it may seem like you and your teen are speaking a different language, it is important to keep the lines of communication open. Your teen may need you now more than ever.

Important tips for talking with your teen include:

  1. LISTEN more, and talk less. Listening helps parents to understand their teens better, work with their teens on solutions to problems, and show their teens they are concerned and interested.
  2. Keep your conversations respectful. Kids learn to speak respectfully by modeling the way you communicate. Also, teens are much more likely to listen if you treat them with respect rather than embarrassing, criticizing, or lecturing them.
  3. Create times for your teen to talk to you. Do things one-on-one. Eat dinner with the entire family. Sometimes it’s easier for teens to talk when they don’t have to look directly at their parents like in the car or on a walk.
  4. Reflect the feelings, and respect the ideas of your teen. You don’t have to agree with your teen, but when you show your teen you understand and respect his/her feelings, he/she is more likely to open up to you.
  5. Your tone of voice should show that you care and respect your teen. Yelling will only cause your teen to shut down communication. Take a break if you want to yell.
  6. Make limits and expectations clear. Writing down expectations and creating an action plan can help. When you give your teen instructions, write them down.
  7. Cool off before giving a consequence for rule-breaking or failing to meet expectations, and don’t shut out your teen when you disapprove of behavior. If you are too upset to talk in a reasonable way, tell your teen you need time.
  8. Ask open-ended questions rather than questions that will get a "yes" or "no" answer or questions to which you already know the answer. You will get much better responses.
  9. Admit your mistakes. There is a no better way to set a good example.
  10. Keep your sense of humor.

The real key to getting your child to talk to you is establishing a trusting and supportive relationship from the beginning. Being close without being overbearing is the perfect way to act with your teenager, and even younger children. Through all of this, it is important to remember that building a strong and trusting relationship can help you instruct and protect your children through everyday conversations.