The Silent Treatment: What to Do When Kids Won’t Talk

Sometimes kids get so upset they don’t want to talk. Other times, they may be going through a “no talking” phase (actually it’s more of a “no talking to parents” phase).

Both of my kids have gone through these phases: during the preschool years and during the teenage years. During the preschool years, it usually involved not talking to one parent (but happily talking to the other). During the teenage years, it usually involved not talking to either parent—and for a long time.

One of our friends had a junior-high-age daughter who didn’t talk to him for two years. Still, he kept talking to her. Every night, he would knock on her door and wish her a good night. He would tell her that he was proud of her and he was glad she was his daughter. For him, those were tough conversations. What he really wanted to ask was, “Why aren’t you talking to me?” and “What’s going on with you?” Instead, he kept the focus on supporting her and connecting with her—even though she clearly wasn’t connecting with him. When this daughter became an adult, she told her dad, “Do you know what I remember best about my junior high years? How much you and I talked.”

One of my kids went through a no-talking-parents phase for a number of years. Whenever I began to panic about not knowing what was going on with my teenager, I would call his favorite aunt or a neighbor he absolutely adored. I would tell them I was worried and ask if they would take my son out for a soda. They were always happy to do so, and my son always came back in a great mood—but not telling me a word about it. Later on, the aunt or the neighbor would reassure me that everything was going well (without telling me details either). Of course, I wanted to know, but I knew that it was important to respect my teen’s privacy (even though it made me uncomfortable doing so). A parent likes to know what’s going on with her kids!

Even if your kids aren’t talking to you, you still can pick up clues about how they’re doing. Remember: Your kids still talk to you through their actions!

• What kind of mood are they in?
• How are they doing in school?
• What kind of friends do they have? (When my son wasn’t talking to me, his friends would. I never asked them about my son, but a few would volunteer information.)

Tips for Parents:

• Be patient!
• Continue talking to them, even if it’s uncomfortable.
• Talk in ways that help them relax. Tease them (in ways that they like).
• Tell them jokes. Tell them about your day (even when they won’t tell you about theirs).
• Enjoy being with them despite their lack of communication. They’ll notice your warmth and your connection. Over time, they’ll being to open up and talk.

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Sources:

1. Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk (New York: Harper, 1999).

2. Family Communication, Parentfurther.

3. Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training: The Tested New Way to Raise Responsible Children (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000).

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