“My life sucks, and I wish I was dead,” cried my 11-year-old son. My mommy radar went into full alert.
That resulted in a fast trip to a psychologist, who reassured me my son didn’t truly want to be dead; he wanted his problems to be. My son’s issue was semantics – not being able to articulate what’s wrong when he has a bad day.
The episode sent me searching for ways to connect with my son. I want him to feel comfortable telling me the good, bad and ugly.
In his book Staying Connected to Your Teenager, counselor Michael Riera, Ph.D. says, “The way to establish and maintain this connection is not as straightforward as the connections made during childhood. Now much is dependent on the creativity and perseverance of parents.” Here’s his advice.
1. Keep talking.
Boys in particular can be nonresponsive, which can dissuade many parents from starting conversations. Fight the urge to clam up when he doesn’t engage, and know that he hears you even if he doesn’t say anything.
Go on a “date” to a film of his choice. Be enthusiastic and receptive, even if it’s a genre you think you detest. This will give you a window into what he enjoys and, if you go out for a meal or treat after, you have an obvious topic.
3. Hugging and horsing around.
Establish physical connection, even if your son rebuffs you. It matters more than he lets on. Plus, humor is one of the best forms of communication for boys.
4. Move and talk.
Whether you are walking the dog together or riding in the car, the parallel interaction seems to open the channels more easily than face to face.
5. Hear him.
If your son does open up, probe only to clarify or get detail. Don’t express your opinion unless he asks, or he’ll stop talking. Let him tell you stories about his friends and Facebook banter.
6. Get off the bleachers.
It’s great to be a cheerleader, but do your own activity, too. You’re setting a good example of lifelong fitness and fun. Down the road, your son may even want to join you.
7. Open your home.
Let him invite his friends over, feed them, let them be loud and horse around. You connect more when you’re the hub of his activities.
8. Share his interests.
Dip your toe into what’s captivated him. Who knows what new activities you might enjoy?
9. Be direct
Boys do not like when you talk in code. Say what you mean.
This article was originally published in July 2013.