Talking to your teen

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Talking with your teenager can be difficult and even stressful at times. However, having effective communication skills can help ease that stress.

Key points

  • When communicating with your teenager, be direct and calm, plan what you would like to say in advance, and stay open minded.
  • Take time to listen to your teenager, and describe your feelings using "I feel" statements, instead of placing blame.
  • If you are concerned that your teenager is not communicating their feelings with anyone, talk to a member of your teenager's health-care team.

Good communication involves the following.

  • Be direct and calm
  • Make good eye contact and show your interest through your body language (not just through your words)
  • Plan what you would like to say in advance (and pick a good time to say it)
  • Stay open minded and non-judgmental
  • Include your perspective and feelings
  • Try to keep things positive
  • Work together to resolve problems
  • Ask thoughtful questions, and avoid trying to read your child’s mind (or expecting them to read yours)
  • Take turns repeating what the other person has said to make sure you both are actively listening

Key points for communicating with teens

Practicing the following techniques can help avoid conflict when communicating with your teenager.

  • Take the time to listen! Teenagers are especially good at noticing if an adult is sincerely trying to understand them.
  • Describe your feelings with “I feel” statements. Practice using this format: "When you do __________, I feel ____________." Communicating this way helps you avoid making statements that could be interpreted as blame.
  • Focus on the behaviour to avoid labelling. For example, failing a test (the behaviour) does not mean your teenager is a failure (the label). Identify the behaviour and describe how you would like it to change and why.

For more strategies on how to improve your communication skills visit the New Conversations Initiative, a resource centre with tips on learning communication skills.

Communicating your feelings

All kids are different. Your teenager may be very willing to talk about their feelings and how they are coping with cancer, or they may not want to talk about anything to do with cancer. It depends on your teen’s personality and how they normally cope. Your teenager will learn tips about communicating effectively in the communication section of their program.

It is really important to be honest with your teen. You may want to avoid talking about sadness, anger and fear, but being open shows them that it’s OK to talk about feelings. If something is really difficult for you to talk about, it might also be difficult for your teen. Be honest about your own feelings and share them with your teenager. Remember to share both the positive and negative feelings. Encourage your teen to do the same by asking specific questions that encourage them to elaborate. Short vague questions like "How are you?" are more likely to get short answers such as "Fine." Also make sure to include several open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a simple "Yes" or "No." For example, "What was going through your mind after your appointment today?" or "What can we do tonight to help you relax and feel better?"

Sharing your own feelings with your teen requires you to find a balance. You will want to make sure that you have an emotional outlet so that when you talk with your child, you are better prepared to share an appropriate mix of concern and strength with them.

Dealing with childhood cancer is hard on the entire family. If you need to talk, consider approaching:

  • a member of your teenager’s health-care team (for example a psychologist or social worker)
  • your partner or spouse
  • family and friends
  • a local or online support group

Encouraging your teen to communicate

Many teens are trying to establish themselves as independent from their parents, and they may be talking to other adults or their friends about how they’re feeling. If you are worried that your teen is not talking to you, ask them if they would prefer support from someone else, or suggest other ways for them to express themselves so that they don’t bottle up their feelings. Some teens find it helpful to explore their feelings through things like journaling, drawing, blogging or connecting with other teenagers who have cancer.

Your teen may be afraid to open up because they’re worried they may break down. This might be embarrassing for them. If you’re worried that your teenager isn’t talking to anyone, you can share this with a member of your teen’s health-care team. They can recommend someone for your teen to talk to. Sometimes, teenagers find it easier to talk to someone who isn’t part of their regular life because they don’t have to worry about hurting or burdening the other person.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019