Continuing the Conversation Blog
What If My Child Won’t Talk to Me?
Saturday, June 23, 2018
Your once chatty child has clammed up. You suspect something might be wrong, something hurtful may have happened, but all your verbal attempts to connect with her fail. Or your quiet child, no matter how hard you try to relate, remains quiet, and you long to form a relationship with him.
Perhaps your littles are just speaking their first words. They haven’t given you the silent treatment yet. Trust me, after rearing seven children, I can assure you, in this parenting journey from birth to eighteen, there will be times when your child will withdraw. Maybe not in preschool, but the elementary school drama is coming and puberty, well, sorry, but that will happen—all fertile ground for struggle, withdrawal, and silence.
Or you may end up with an introvert. I know, hard to imagine, especially if you’re an extrovert. This happened to my friend, Ann. She and her husband are both extroverts. She’s the fun-loving life of her family and her husband’s an engaging, successful salesman. Their family can make any stranger feel welcome. Enter their second child, who wanted to read rather than party, wanted to play with the dog rather than engage with a human, and well, my pal was at a loss.
“I don’t know how to connect with her,” she said. “I’ve tried everything I know. It seems like the more I talk the less she responds. I want to know my child.”
Years later, I uttered nearly the same words to Ann. Frustrated, no matter what I had tried, I couldn’t seem to connect with one of my daughters, and I knew there were some painful circumstances she’d experienced that we needed to discuss.
“Well, a wise friend,” Ann said, with a wink and a grin, “gave me some advice that worked.”
“Yeah. Well, what did she tell you?” I said, annoyed by her grin and feeling too overwhelmed to identify the meaning behind her wink.
“It was you!” she laughed. “Don’t you remember?”
Funny. Not funny.
Strange how we can dole out advice to others and have no clue or memory when we’re sitting in our own stuff. I think that’s why we need friends and perhaps, blogs.
So, let me be your friend today.
Sweet mama, I didn’t share the above scenarios to burden you, but to be real with you. I want you to have this little bit of advice I gave to Ann, and she returned to me, in the back pocket of your favorite well-worn mama jeans.
Buy a journal. Yep, no technology or Wi-Fi needed. All you need is an old-fashioned journal. Lined if your child can write. Unlined if you child doesn’t—you will be surprised what your child can communicate in pictures, and you won’t need an art therapy degree to figure it out. Let your child pick the journal out or find one you know your child would like. I had a kid who was into owls. A journal with owls was a win.
Write a sweet note. Model journal writing. Share a simple story about how you felt when you found out you were pregnant with him, or what your thoughts were when you found out you were going to be entrusted with her via adoption. I still connect with one of my sons by telling him about the day he was born. It’s a way for me to remind him just how much he was wanted and is loved. Open the door of your heart. Take the risk and kick the fear of rejection to the curb.
Have the talk. No, not that talk. This talk. “Hey kiddo, sometimes we have thoughts, dreams, ideas, or problems that are hard to talk about. I have them. Dad has them. Every person has them.” Kind of like the book Everybody Poops. But, I digress. “I want you to know that I care about everything that you care about. So, here’s a journal that’s just for us. The only rule about this journal is that no one else gets to see it or read it. I’ve written a message to you to start. We both can write in it whatever and whenever. Just write when there’s something you want to share with me or ask me. I’ll do the same.”
Choose a sacred location. Engage your child in the process. “Where do you think we could keep our journal when we’re not writing in it?” My daughter and I put our journal on each other’s pillows, so we knew when there was a new entry.
Build a journal relationship. Follow the basic rules of relationship building. Don’t jump right in with the deep questions or pressure for answers. Temper your desire for connection. See this as an opportunity to build a new relationship with your child—a journal relationship. This won’t be a place to give advice, but to listen, to empathize, and to ask good questions. Remember that journals are for processing and should be safe, so honesty can be honored and respected. Allow the truth to set you both free. And, remember, what is written in the journal, stays in the journal, unless life is at risk or a crime must be reported. If you feel you need to talk about something, broach the idea of a face-to-face discussion in the journal. Building trust and maintaining trust is critical.
Wait. Don’t push. Yeah, didn’t you know I’d have to mention the need for patience in an instant-fix, instant-gratification world? But I must. Give yourself and your child time and space to think and ponder. With one of my children, after several journal entries, her correspondence stopped. I didn’t hear from her for months. I waited. And waited. Then one day the journal was on my pillow with treasures from her heart. It was worth the wait.
Of course, connecting with your child through a journal won’t work for every child. Nothing works for every kid. But if your chatty Cathy has withdrawn or you’ve got an introvert who you know has some wonderful thoughts going on behind those pensive eyes, what’s a mama got to lose? Maybe the price of the journal or a small sting of rejection? But we can handle that. We survived labor or adoption pains for heaven’s sake! But isn’t it worth the risk for the possibility of hearing the heart of our child? And considering the many other mental and physical health benefits of journaling, it’s a win no matter what. If nothing else, you will know, and your child will know, you tried, and you cared.
Prevention knowledge every adult should know: A change in personality, a chatty child who suddenly becomes quiet or withdrawn can be a sign of sexual abuse. A child who is introverted can be more susceptible to sexual abuse because perpetrators choose children who are more likely to keep quiet.
Carolyn Byers Ruch is the founder of Rise and Shine Movement and author of the children’s books, Ana’s Song and Bobby Gilliam, Brave and Strong, both tools for the prevention of childhood sexual abuse. She has spent the past ten years championing the issue of childhood sexual abuse and has received training certificates from some of the leading organizations dedicated to protecting children. A former teacher and mother of seven, her life has been enriched through adoption and foster care.
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