When did your chatty preschooler morph into a distant, non-communicative tween? DR RICHARD C. WOOLFSON offers ways to cope.
Your tween used to be very chatty when he was a preschooler – he would talk to you non-stop about anything and everything.
In those earlier years, he was delighted to share his news with you, and he was ready to listen to your advice.
But now he is less open and mumbles grudgingly at you. His standard reply to every question is either “OK”, “No”, or “I don’t know”, and you are left wondering what happened to make him change.
When a child reaches this stage, a number of things happen. First, he develops a stronger sense of self, a greater realisation that he is an independent young person with his own ideas and values.
He begins to challenge your views, not because he wants to antagonise you but because he wants to explore his own alternatives, and one of this transition’s side effects is his reluctance to be so open with you.
Second, it is very likely that your preteen is concerned about the physical changes that arise from puberty. He sees his body mature, and understandably, he prefers to talk to his pals about this.
Of course, he may still want to ask you questions but he’ll be embarrassed about this, whereas he is more comfortable speaking to his friends.
Third, your child will probably choose to wear clothes that are different from the ones you would select, and he’ll probably listen to music that is not to your taste.
Making distinctive choices is his way of telling you that he is growing up, that he will not automatically agree with everything you say and do.
And last, his peer group assumes greater importance. He loves you and wants you to love him, but he also needs to be accepted and valued by his friends. So he prefers to talk to them than to you.
Here are some suggestions for encouraging your tween to talk to you, despite his reluctance:
Accept his right to privacy
Knock on his bedroom door before entering, if that makes him feel more comfortable. Within limits, he should have privacy within his own room.
And don’t read his private text messages when he carelessly leaves his smartphone lying around. Tell him that you understand he wants to keep some matters private now that he’s older, but add that you are always willing to listen if he wants to talk.
Don’t push too hard
The more reluctant your tween is to talk to you about something, the more you might try to push him to talk. This will not work.
You cannot force your child to reveal his innermost feelings, no matter what you threaten him with – if you try too hard, he’ll become even more distant. When you see the shutters are down, leave the conversation alone for a while. You can always return to it later.
Talk to him about events in your life
Just because he has decided to be less open, doesn’t mean you have to do the same. If you did, nobody will be speaking to anyone in your house!
Talk to him about the main events in your life, and about family matters. This keeps the channels of communication open and maintains the habit of family discussions, even though he doesn’t want to participate at the moment.
Be there for him
No matter how little your tween talks to you, make sure he knows you are there for him. Explain to him that there may be times when he wants to tell you something that you may not want to hear (for instance, he wants to stay overnight at a friend’s house), but that you would rather he told you than he kept it secret.
He needs to know that your communication channels never close.
You cannot force your child to reveal his innermost feelings – if you try too hard, he’ll become even more distant.
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