5 Secrets to Reaching a Child Who Won’t Talk

How do you handle it when your child starts distancing themselves from you? Whether they’re deep in their teenage years and sinking further into seclusion, or they’re adults who suddenly aren’t returning your calls, what do you do when your child isn’t talking to you?

Today I’m sharing a few reasons why your child may not be talking, along with five secrets for reaching out to them.

As parents, we want to connect with our kids. We would give anything to help them. That’s the nature of parenting, isn’t it? We would move mountains if it meant a better world for our kids. In my own experience parenting my five children (all now adults), I’ve found that kids generally stop talking for the following reasons:

  • They’re anxious or worried about something (maybe their future?).
  • They’re stressed out or overwhelmed with their current situation.
  • They’re hurt, hiding, or angry.

As parents, we want to have all the answers for our kids, don’t we? So if our children are anxious or worried, we preach to them all the reasons why they shouldn’t be anxious or worried. Maybe we tell them the problem they’re dealing with is juvenile and not worth stressing about, or they really don’t have a good reason to be angry. We shush our children and tell them to settle down without really listening to what is going on in their heart.

Growing up on football teams and playing in the NFL did little to help me with parenting my children. In my early days as a young dad, I would often find myself ‘coaching’ my kids the same way my coaches trained me out on the football field.

I probably got some of that from my step-dad as well. He was the captain of a submarine, and did not have a problem waking me up with a blow-horn in the early mornings.

These parenting styles I adopted from my step-dad and my coaches really did make me feel like I was in control of every situation. I had an answer for every question my kids had: "Just run this play, do it this way.”

However, while this style of parenting left me feeling confident and in control, it did little to promote a healthy relationship between my kids and myself. After years of not feeling ‘heard’ by me, my kids began to go elsewhere for answers. This was a wake-up call for me. I needed to learn how to reach out to my kids when they weren’t talking to me.

In my own experience, I discovered that kids don’t talk to their parents when they are either afraid of what their parents will say, or don’t know how to connect with their parents regarding their issues in addition to the things I mentioned earlier. Remember, kids are experiencing new challenges and trials in their life each and every day, even our adult children. Sometimes they don’t have the words or the frame of reference to even know how to relate to you on a subject.

Additionally, if you have a parenting style like I did—thinking you have the answers for everything—your kids may have already given up on you.

Your job as a parent is to be present and loving no matter what season your children are going through. Whether they’ve stopped returning your phone calls because you’ve hurt them, or they’re hiding out in their room because they’re unsure about their life, remaining a constant, loving, present parent in their life will go a long way.

While having all the answers may give you a feeling of control, it won’t go very far in reaching your children. Your job isn’t to have all the answers—we know that’s not possible. Your job is to be in a place where you can equip them to process through the hard things, the difficult situations, and the overwhelming emotions they may be going through.

Your job is to lead them to God the Father, who really does have all the answers that they need!

Here are some ways you can be present and reach out to your children when they aren’t talking:

 

Seek to understand what they’re going through by asking questions

 

Your children want to be heard. They want to be seen. Listening is a powerful point of connection for them, as it shows them that you care. Asking questions will move you out of the typical Parent-Child Conflict style of talking, where you are in charge and have the final word.

The goal of asking questions is to get your child to open up and share a little bit about what’s going on inside their heart. I will warn you, however: this is not a time to interrogate your children, or grill them. It’s simply a time to ask a few questions and listen. Here are some good examples of questions you can ask:

  • What does it feel like to be you right now?
  • Tell me about how this situation makes you feel.
  • Is there anything I can do to help you?

 

Communicate to your kids that you struggle with the same things

 

This might be harder than you think. Take inventory of times in your life when you’ve been anxious, stressed out, hurt, hiding, or angry. How did you handle those situations? How do you generally handle stress in your life?

It was an eye-opening moment when I realized that my kids were handling their problems in the same broken ways that I did. I had unwittingly taught them how to handle stress, and I wasn’t good at it!

If you find yourself in the same place that I did, take some time to communicate to your kids how you’ve struggled with these things as well. Remember, our kids learn by watching us. Owning up to the fact that you haven’t handled your problems well in the past may open the door for you and your child to brainstorm healthy ways to handle your problems in the future.

 

Don’t let your kids isolate for too long, it won’t get any better

 

Generally, when my kids are isolating themselves in their room or avoiding my phone calls, it’s either because I’ve hurt them or they are afraid I will be disappointed in them.

This is not the time for you as a parent to stay angry in the next room, or to wallow in guilt for your own bad behavior. This is the time for you to gently pursue your kids. Isn’t this what God the Father did for you?

“We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.”  (Ephesians 2:2-6 MSG)

 

Ask for forgiveness

 

It will come as no surprise that as a parent you will falter and fail. You will sin and hurt your kids. What you may not realize however, is that sometimes you hurt your kids without even realizing.

In our culture, we have adopted the idea that I only need to apologize if I feel that I was wrong, or if I’m aware of what the hurt is. However, the Bible teaches that Jesus didn’t just die for our trespasses (intentional sins) but also, our transgressions (unintentional sins).

If our goal as parents is to stay connected to our children so that we can remain in a place where we are leading them back to the Father’s house, then it would do us well if we would learn to ask for forgiveness.

This has been a game-changer in my relationships with my kids. I often ask them, “Is there anything I need to ask your forgiveness for?” The first few times, I didn’t get an answer. But as I continually and genuinely asked my children this question, I learned quite a bit about them and myself as well.

Sometimes my intentions were not understood by my kids, and therefore my words hurt them. Sometimes I struck the wrong tone in the conversation and wounded them. It would have been easy for me to say, “Well, you know that’s not what I meant,” or “That wasn’t my intention, so I don’t need to apologize.” However, simply listening and apologizing for what happened went much further in deepening my relationship with my kids than any defense I might have had.

This is a hard practice to start, as it requires quite a bit of humility. You will no doubt hear things from your kids that you think are ridiculous, or irrelevant. Just apologize and seek forgiveness. I can almost guarantee you God will richly reward you.

 

Build an anxiety/stress buster into your family: PRAYER!

 

The Bible says:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 ESV)

This is a great practice to build into your family: pray out loud about everything, trusting and believing that God hears you and will answer. This simple act of bringing your concerns and cares to God along with your children will teach them how to handle their problems in a healthy way.

It also models to your children that you have struggles and problems as well. We all need to go to Jesus. I personally have witnessed some of my biggest breakthroughs in our family when we cast our cares upon Jesus in prayer together.


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Published on June 27, 2018.

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