Cheryl Marguire, contributing writer 

AROUND THE TIME my twins turned 13, they stopped talking to me. After a mumbled “hello” when they got
home from school, they would scamper off to their rooms and close their doors, practically in unison.I know I’m not the only parent getting the silent treatment. A lot of us experience this kind of shutting down from our kids, and we’re all looking for ways to bridge the gap.

Dr. Ken Ginsburg, a pediatrician and co-founder of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said, “It is important to build a foundation of communication skills and establish two way dialogues early so your teens will feel comfortable coming to you as they mature.” But how do we help our kids develop communication skills when they rarely communicate?

Take time to listen.

Dr. Ginsburg recommends maintaining a consistent presence in your child’s life. Show curiosity in their interests by
asking questions about their latest sports event or dance class and make yourself available when they need to talk. Even though it may seem like they don’t want to talk to you, it’s important to make the effort to engage them in
conversation. When your teen does talk to you, remove distractions (like your phone or work), listen carefully to what they say, and demonstrate your understanding by rephrasing what they’ve said.

Be a role model.

Even when it seems like your teen is in their room most of the time, they are still paying attention to what you are doing. Make sure you’re modeling the behavior you want to see in them. “Model skills you want to pass along,” Dr.
Ginsburg said. “Let them see how you resolve emerging conflicts, bounce ideas off others, and seek help when needed.”

Know what communication skills they need.

Kids enter a complex stage of development in middle school. “They’ve still got one foot planted in childhood, and the other foot stepping into adulthood,” Dr. Ginsburg said. “Their bodies are changing, and their emotions are in flux. Plus, they are working to figure out where they fit in with peers, friends, and their communities.” During this development phase, kids need to learn how to:

• Cooperate with others
• Negotiate peer situations
• Resolve conflict
• Empathize with other people’s feelings
• Notice nonverbal cues
• Learn how to appropriately express
their own emotions in a variety of

How to teach communication skills.

One way to help your child develop these important communication skills is through role play. They may resist, but still encourage them to treat it like a game. Try acting out a situation that may be difficult for them, such as which lunch table to sit at, and then offer some suggestions for what they can say in that situation.

When your child isn’t up for talking, try talking about yourself or your daily activities. Taking the pressure off them
to communicate may lead them to ask questions and show an interest in what you’re saying — which is one way to help them develop their skills.

There are times when your child may experience peer pressure but is unsure how to navigate the situation. Dr. Ginsburg recommends establishing a code word with your child that they can use when they’re feeling pressured. If your child is with friends and uses their code word in a phone call or text to you, that is your cue to tell them, “It’s time to come home.”

“Having a code word gives them a safety net while they are still developing social skills,” Dr. Ginsburg said.

Remember they love you, even when they don’t talk to you.

Most kids learn communication skills through trial and error.

It can be frustrating when your previously chatty child turns into a silent teen who doesn’t want to talk to you — or prefers talking with their friends instead of you. But it’s a normal part of their adolescent development.“Peers may seem more important, but no one is as valuable as parents,” Dr. Ginsburg said. “They still need your love, support, guidance, and structure.