Reconnecting With Your Defiant Child or Teen

Using breakthrough listening techniques to reestablish a strong connection.

Posted Jul 30, 2012

Listening is a crucial part of effective communication with your defiant child or teen. This all important parenting skill must be valued and consistently practiced. Listening shows defiant children and teens that parents care and are interested in what they are feeling and have to say. The more you can powerfully listen to your child, the less likely he or she will speak to you through defiant behavior. Below are some helpful ways to become a better listener:

Make caring eye contact.

When it comes to listening, your eyes count almost as much as your ears. You eyes are a very powerful cue to your child that shows you are interested. If you make little eye contact, your child gets the opposite message—that you are not interested in what she’s saying. When making eye contact, be mindful of being non-threatening and supportive in your demeanor.

Eliminate distractions.

When your child expresses a desire to talk or seems open to talking, support him by giving him your full focus. Put aside what you were doing, face your child, and give him your undivided attention. If, for example, you continue to listen to your voicemail, wash the dishes, read the paper, or watch television while your child is trying to communicate with you, he may get the message that you aren’t interested in what he has to say. Or he may internalize the belief that what he has to say is not important. If your child expresses a desire to talk at a time that you are not able to, plan a time with your child to talk later on.

Listen with an open heart and a closed mouth.

As tempting as it may be to jump in with your sage-like, unsolicited parental wisdom, it is best to try to keep the interruptions to a minimum while your child is speaking. Try not to let your own ego get in the way. You can offer encouragement through a smile or a pat, but don’t interrupt her. Your interruptions can break your child’s train of thought, and this can be very frustrating.

Let your child know she has been heard.

After your child has finished speaking, show that you listened by restating what she said, in slightly different words. For example, if your child is complaining about her math class you could say something like, “It sounds like you this subject really frustrates you.” Not only does this show that you’ve been listening, it provides your child with an opportunity to clarify if you have misinterpreted her message.

It is critical that you don’t criticize.

I am convinced that a big reason so many children respond with “fine” or “good” when asked how their day at school is because they are afraid of being criticized. Try to remember how criticism can be a turn off and try not to turn it on with your child or teen.

Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist, personal, and executive coach, and motivational speaker in the greater Philadelphia area. He has been on the Today Show, Radio, and has written four popular books, including 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child. You can also follow him on Twitter.