Engaging With Closed-Off Kids & Teens

Available with English captions and subtitles in Chinese, Hindi, and Spanish.

Having difficult conversations is challenging, but if they’re handled well, it can bring you closer with your children. Being a caretaker means setting the tone that your kids can come to you with anything they want to talk to you about.

Talking about tough subjects helps strengthen your child’s ability to solve problems, communicate well with others, and think critically. By being a parent that doesn’t shy away from tough stuff, you can help your child learn to deal with whatever life throws their way.

Audience Questions

Blaise Aguirre, MD, suggests ways to approach difficult topics with children and adolescents, shares strategies to encourage your kids to open up to you, and answers audience questions about navigating tough talks throughout childhood.

  • What’s the value behind having difficult conversations with our kids?
  • Are there better environments to initiate these types of conversations in than others? As a dad yourself, what approaches have you found to be successful in initiating difficult chats?
  • Is there a certain age that we should start having these conversations? If they’re very young, should we try to “sugarcoat” subjects for them?
  • What types of support would you recommend for kids when following a tough talk?
  • What if your child doesn’t want to talk? How can we approach kids that are reluctant to open up for one reason or another?
  • It seems that many parents instinctively want to solve their children’s problems. Do you think that young people are reluctant to open up because they are afraid parents will take action on the child’s behalf rather than just be there to listen to them?
  • Is there specific language or questions they can ask that will help move the needle from overly helping to just listening?
  • A lot of folks, when nervous, will talk—a lot—and if a caretaker is nervous about a tough topic, they may make the conversation one-sided. How can we help keep conversations as dialogues?
  • How can you make everyone in the discussion feel as comfortable as possible? Is this even possible?
  • Any advice for keeping emotions in check if our kids come to us to talk about difficult subjects?
  • How do we, as parents and educators, listen to young people without personalizing what we are hearing?
  • If we have more than one kid, is there any benefit to having a tough talk with multiple children at once, or should we try to talk to each individually about difficult subjects?
  • Any tips around successfully validating young people who are sharing their negative feelings about us as parents? It really hurts to hear criticism, but by reacting poorly I feel like we just further splinter our relationships with our kids.
  • Which important conversations tend to be the most challenging for parents to have and are therefore often avoided?
  • How can we tell if our kids are emotionally regulated, and we can initiate a difficult conversation?
  • How can we prepare to have a difficult chat? What are some things we can do in advance of the conversation?
  • Many of us have teens who seem to have completely shut down speaking with parents, even small talk. It’s hard not to throw your hands up in these situations and just hope it works itself out. At which point do we want to talk to a therapist about this?
  • Some children can be very hard on themselves about things like their grades or their performance in sports. How do we approach helping a child who is very hard on themselves?
  • My college-aged child does not leave the house, has been home for four years, and has cut off all their friends. What can we do as parents to engage with them?
  • How do you suggest expressing concern to our teens about being responsible about alcohol, marijuana, and sex without sounding like we’re lecturing them?
  • If our kid is more comfortable speaking to one parent than another, how can we enroll the other parent in what’s happening in our child’s life without it feeling like a betrayal of trust to our child?
  • Any tips for parents on getting their kids interested and engaged in mental health treatment?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.

About Dr. Aguirre

Blaise Aguirre, MD, is a child and adolescent psychiatrist specializing in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and mentalization-based treatment (MBT) for borderline personality disorder and associated conditions. He is the founding medical director of McLean’s 3East continuum of care, programs for teens that use DBT to target self-endangering behaviors as well as the symptoms of borderline personality disorder.

Learn more about Dr. Aguirre.

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Originally aired February 16, 2022