My tween's stopped talking to me ― Help!

Should you worry if your child suddenly stops talking to you? How should you handle this change in them?

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Your kiddo and you used to be best friends. She would tell you everything, follow you everywhere, and always updated you on what was going on in her life. But recently, you’ve realised that your normally chatty tween isn’t talking as much as before. Worse, she has stopped telling you about her problems or updating you on how her day was.

When you try to talk to her, all you get is silence or very brief replies. What do you do when this suddenly happens? Don’t panic, because this is a normal adolescent occurrence. Dr Penny Tok, a chartered psychologist, states that the teenage years are all about self-discovery. “Friendships, in particular, start to play a bigger role as kids start looking outwards to forge their own identity, and social interactions become more important.”

Clinical psychologist Dr Vaani Gunaseelan adds, “Teens who feel that their parents are not accepting of their self-exploration would tend to withdraw more and may prefer to confide in friends instead.”

This usually starts happening when your child enters the teenage years. As girls develop faster, this can start from as early as 10 or 11 years old. However, if you observe that your tween is not only withdrawing from your family, but close friends as well, it might be a sign of a more serious issue. So, listen to your gut to decide if your kiddo’s sudden silent treatment is a cause for worry. Read on for possible scenarios you might have to deal with.

Try opening up to her first by telling her interesting or funny incidents you’ve experienced. If you open up, she is more likely to do the same.

1. You and your child used to be “best friends”

Your princess used to talk to you about everything under the sun, including details about her private life. You never had to dig any information from her because as soon as something happened, she would run to tell you about it. But now, she shuts you out and only opens up to her friends. Although both of you still communicate, she is not as forthcoming with details as before.

What not to do? Do not lecture or try to guilt-trip her into opening up to you. Don’t probe or stick your nose into things she isn’t willing to share with you either.

Do this instead: Engage in activities that you both enjoyed doing together before, like cycling to the beach, or window shopping. Spend time with her so that you can create opportunities for you both to talk. Try opening up to her first by telling her interesting or funny incidents you’ve experienced. If you open up, she is more likely to do the same. Dr Vaani points out that a warm parent-child relationship and showing interest in their activities and friends would encourage junior to share details of her day with you.

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2. Your child responds with one-word replies or eye-rolls

She tries to minimize the amount of time spent with you and the family, and would rather hang out with her friends now. You see her sharing a wide variety of expressions with her pals, but when you try to talk to her, all you get are one-word replies and eye rolls.

What not to do: Don’t force her to talk to you. “We need teens to feel comfortable talking and if we try to force them, they might get resentful and withdraw even more,” Dr Tok says.

Do this instead: Show that you value her opinions by talking to her like an adult. Be patient as she might not want to talk now, so try again another time. “You can also tell her in a firm manner that this behaviour is rude and though you can understand why she might not wish to talk, it will be best to learn to be respectful and polite to one another,” says Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist with a special interest in youth psychiatry.

Persist in building a trusting relationship but accept that your child may need more personal space at this stage.”

3. Your child has withdrawn from both family and friends

She locks herself in her room all day, and no longer participates in activities she used to enjoy. Not only has she pulled away from you and your family, but from her close friends as well. If you observe this from your child, take note. Withdrawal is non-avoidable growing up, but such behaviour might indicate the beginning of a more serious mental issue, such as depression, schizophrenia or a bipolar disorder. As these problems are usually more prevalent in late teens and early 20s, make sure to monitor your child closely and seek professional help if you suspect that something is wrong. Dr Lim says, “Look out for a sudden change in mood, sudden withdrawal and unusual irritability. Changes in appetite, weight and sleep can also be warning signs. The kids may start with superficial self-harm and may have scars on their limbs or body.”

What not to do: Don’t start panicking and questioning everything junior does. She might take this the wrong way and think that you don’t trust her, which will cause her to pull away even more.

Do this instead: Give her privacy, but let her know that you are there for her if she ever needs you. Dr Tok says, “Persist in building a trusting relationship but accept that your child may need more personal space at this stage. Keep encouraging quality time with each other and emphasise that you are always there if she needs you.”

“Ground rules and boundaries around privacy, as well as expectations about staying safe need to be discussed and mutually agreed upon with your teenager. For instance, parents can allow their child to keep their doors close but not locked, and knock before entering their room,” Dr Vaani adds.

Dr Lim Boon Leng is a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness.

Dr Penny Tok is a chartered psychologist at Dr Penny Tok Psychology Practice.

Dr Vaani Gunaseelan is a clinical psychologist at Think Psychological Services.

Photos: iStock

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