Brain Injury & Adolescents: 5 Strategies for Talking with your Teen

The Center on Brain Injury Research & Training
5 Strategies for Talking with your Teen

Transition is a challenging time, both for teens and for the adults in their lives. Teens need to be able to talk about their plans and concerns with adults, but it can sometimes be difficult for adults to get out of the driver’s seat and let the teen take charge.

Sometimes teens can be very talkative; other times they can be quiet and in need of encouragement. Parents and teachers need to be able to draw out concerns, goals, and hopes to help teens with this important transition.

Here are five simple communication tips that will help engage your child in the transition process.

1. Use Open Ended Questions

Why

Asking open-ended questions makes your child a partner in the conversation. Open–ended questions encourage thinking, exchanging viewpoints and exploring ideas.

How

An open-ended question is one that can’t be answered with yes or no. Here is an example of a “yes/no” question:

“Have you thought about the kind of work you'd like to do?”

This question can be answered with a yes or no and does not encourage any further conversation. Here is how you can turn this “yes/no” question into an open ended question:

“What kind of work would you like to do?”

This question cannot be answered with a yes or no and encourages your child to exchange viewpoints and explore ideas.

Tips for using open-ended questions

  • Think about the most likely response to your question before you ask it.
  • Do not ask questions that can be answered with a yes or no.

2. Ask Permission

Why

Giving unsolicited advice, information or ideas can come across as authoritative and directive. This can cause your child to feel as if his or her opinions or thoughts are not valued. Asking permission to share information allows you to give advice in a respectful way. It also gives the child practice in thinking about and expressing preferences.

How

Asking permission is simply about asking first before offering advice or input. Here is an example of a parent not asking permission:

“I don’t think this schedule is working well for you. You’re going to have to start getting up earlier.”

Here is an example of asking permission:

“Can I suggest how you might rearrange your schedule?”

Can you see the difference? In the second question the parent asks permission to share information in a respectful way.

You may be thinking: What if my child says, “No! I don’t want to hear what you have to say?” If that happens, accept the “no” graciously (remain emotionally neutral) and ask an open-ended question. “How do you think you could solve this problem?” As the conversation continues, and you build your child’s trust that you won’t dominate the conversation, you can ask again if you can share some of your experiences and ideas.

Tips for asking permission

  • Be respectful by asking before sharing unsolicited advice.
  • Talk “with” your child rather than “at” your child by asking to share information.

3. Use Positive Language

Why

Using positive language can strengthen your rapport with your child and increase the likelihood of having a productive conversation. Affirmations should be used sparingly. If they are overused they can sound insincere or forced. Don’t say, “You do this better than anyone I’ve ever met,” if it isn’t true. Once you are caught in that kind of exaggeration, it will be hard to regain your child’s trust when you want to point out an accomplishment.

How

Examples of positive language include giving affirmations that express appreciation of who the youth is or acknowledging what he or she has done. Here is an example of a parent not using positive language:

“Your grades aren’t as bad as they were last term. Better keep studying so they don’t slip back.”

Here is an example of a parent using positive language:

“Your grades in your English class are improving. Looks like the extra time studying is helping.”

The parent used positive language by acknowledging what the student has done.

Tips for using positive language

  • Express appreciation for who the youth is.
  • Acknowledge what the youth has done.

4. Show You Are Listening

Why

Showing that you are listening conveys caring and respect, which may help encourage more conversation with your child.

How

You can show your child you are listening by reflecting the meaning or feeling in what your child has said to you. Take a reasonable guess as to what your child meant or what your child is feeling, and then state that guess clearly. You can reflect the meaning of a statement or the feeling of a statement.

Here is an example of a parent taking a guess at what she thinks her child meant and stating it.

The child said, “I don’t think it’s fair that I lost my place writing for the school paper just because I was out for two months.”
The parent says, “I can hear that it’s hard for you to come back and not have things be like they were before.”

The parent shows she is listening by reflecting what she thinks her child meant.

Here is an example of a parent not showing she is listening:

“They couldn’t wait for you. You’ll have another chance – maybe next year.”

The parent doesn’t show she is listening. She doesn’t reflect what she thinks her child meant.

Tips for showing you are listening

  • Reflect the meaning or feeling of your child’s statement

5. Be Concise

Why

When talking with your child it is important to be concise. You and your child will get more out of the conversation if you stick to clear and specific topics.

How

Try not to ask questions that are overly broad or tax your child’s memory. This will just lead to confusion and frustration rather than allowing you both to focus on the topic at hand. Guide your child in the conversation by asking simple, clear questions that focus on one topic at a time.

Here is an example of a parent being concise:

"When we were talking yesterday, you said you want to start applying to college. Can we talk about how you might prepare?”

The parent guides the child in the conversation by asking a simple question focused on one topic.

Here is an example of a parent not being concise.

I’d like to follow up on what we were talking about yesterday. You wanted to start applying to college, so it would be good to look at your grades and see what classes you might need to take to get ready. You see, it will be easier for you if you can get your writing skills up. Having good writing skills will get you through some of the classes you’ll be taking in your first year.

So, how do you think your writing skills are now?”

The parent is covering too many topics at once and is not being concise.

Tips for being concise

  • Stick to clear and specific topics.
  • Ask simple, clear questions.
  • Do not ask question that are overly broad or tax your child’s memory.

Put it All Together

Remember to use these effective communication strategies when talking with your teen to help your child better engage in the transition process. Strategies are:

Use open-ended questions:

  • Think about the most likely response to your question before you ask it.
  • Do not ask questions that can be answered with a yes or no.

Ask permission:

  • Be respectful by asking before sharing unsolicited advice.
  • Talk “with” your child rather than “at” your child by asking to share information.

Use positive language:

  • Express appreciation for who the youth is.
  • Acknowledge what the youth has done.

Show you’re listening:

  • Reflect the meaning or feeling of your child’s statement.

Be concise:

  • Stick to clear and specific topics.
  • Ask simple, clear questions.
  • Do not ask question that are overly broad or tax your child’s memory.

Learn More

There is always something new to learn about brain injury. The Center on Brain Injury Research & Training provides updated information and useful trainings to help you improve your skills to support someone with a brain injury.
Visit cbirt.org for additional help and resources >

Posted on BrainLine October 22, 2015.