get your sons to talk and open up

How to Get Your Quiet Tween/Teenage Son to Open Up to You

(Inside: Do you want your quiet child middle to talk to you more? 5 tips for parents on how to get your tween or younger teenage son to open up to you.)

“Emma came home from your house and spent 30 minutes telling me every single detail of what happened,” my friend gave me the wide-eyed-so-many-words-from-a-tiny-human look.

I howled. Emma was at our house for only 20 minutes. I could just imagine her describing to her mom every intricate deal with animated hand gestures, dramatic pauses, and a wide range of octaves. Thirty minutes worth. Oh goodness. Sweet bubbly Emma.

Then a stab of jealousy cut through me…

My boys don’t share like that. They just don’t. Other parents say that a chatty child can be a bit much at times BUT I DON’T HEAR YOU, YOU LUCKY DOGS. I can’t even understand your life. I better connect with the mom who told me she would bribe her school-age son with chips to share about his day with her. He’d have to tell her something *anything* about his day to get his after-school snack: 1 fact = 1 chip. Brilliant.

Tween and Teenage Boys Want to Be Heard

However, even though my middle school boys are quiet, I know they want to be heard. A Harvard study was done over 268+ men’s entire adult life span to determine what made them the happiest. Do you know what the results were? Men were happier when they held strong relationships. Men need people to connect with. And one needs words to build relationships.

So, momma with a quiet son, let’s let this fact empower us. We raise happier boys to become happier men when we teach them to connect through their words.

And we can do this. We’re women, after all, and we invented talking. We can teach our boys to find and use their voices in a natural, healthy way that fits their personalities.

I did a ton of reading on this topic and came up with six powerful tools to help your quiet tween or teenage son open up and talk to you. These ideas will validate what you’re already doing – yeah, strong momma! – and hopefully, give you a few good ideas to unlock the heart of your child.

quiet child
Connect with your quiet son over these conversation starters.

Tool #1: Narrow Down Your Parenting Focus

I’ve heard it said, “If you try and get everything done, you won’t get anything done.” This is true for parenting. We are trying to teach our kids so much:  to be kind, to give, to be leaders, to be happy, to thrive in school, and more… But, we can’t effectively focus on everything at once – that’s intake overload for our children.

Pick one important lesson and focus on that for a week, a month, six months…  Right now, my focus is on getting my three sons to share on a deeper level than, “everything’s fine.”

Tool #2: Persist

Y’all, persistence is our secret weapon. (I’m pretty sure moms invented that too.) If you want to build a good relationship with your kids – persist. They are teenagers, of course, they will sometimes resist, but don’t take it personally.

Think about all the changes they are going through: How come their body just grew 6 inches? Why does their elementary school bestie ignore them now at middle school? What is this test with an actual grade? How did I just get cut from the team? You mean my mom can’t just sign me up for the play, I have to audition?… They’re life just got FOR REALZ.

But in almost two decades of teaching high school, I’ve learned with absolute certainty that all students want their parents to pay attention to them. Yes, even the apathetic ones. And especially the ones with attitude.

So, keep trying different ways to connect with your child. Things won’t change overnight, but still – go after your kids’ hearts with gusto. Let them see this isn’t a passing fad; you’re serious about connecting with them.

“Anything worthwhile takes time and effort, and that’s true when it comes to establishing communication with your kids. If communication hasn’t been good, chances are that they will not decide, all of a sudden to start opening up with you and carrying on a deep dialogue. You must continuously work at keeping the lines of communication open and demonstrate that your willingness to listen and discuss things calmly and rationally is not a passing fad.” Dr. Kevin Leman, Child Psychologist 

A Priceless Bonus to Your Persistence

If parents can connect with their kids every day, they’ll lay out a strong safety net for their kids in times of crisis.

“When tensions are high, your child is not going to be in a position to open up to you. Engage early and often, before there is a problem. This way you will develop a rapport with your child that will be very important when an actual crisis arise” Valle Dwight

Some of the best things in life only come after epic amounts of persistence. So keep going. With confidence. And expect to see sparks of hope.

quiet child
Connect with your quiet son over these conversation starters.

Tool #3: Make Daily Space for Conversation with Your Quiet Child

When I was pregnant with my first child, I taught high school, tutored students, coached, chaperoned dances, and more. I loved it all. However, I started to question my workaholic tendencies. 

I talked to one of our administrators about quitting coaching. She said the opposite of what I predicted, “It’s a good idea. When you put something new on your plate, you have to take something off.” This successful and admired career woman gave me permission to not try and “have it all.” {Sigh of relief.}

Parents – if we want to get our kids to talk to us, we must make space for it in our lives – even if that means taking something off of our plates. Make space to promote talking through two avenues:

Promote Conversation through Daily Family Time

Growing up, I remember family vacations, Christmas celebrations, and birthday parties. But do you know what I remember with greater fondness?

When my parents gathered us before bed in the living room to pray. (In which my sister and I giggled inappropriately through these prayer sessions.)

And when my sister turned her daily mundane into hilarious stories she told around the dinner table.

Or when my mom lined up the bowls and boxes of cereal in the morning for us to eat breakfast together.

I remember the daily moments of being together. In the daily moments is when we really lived. It’s when we shared and laughed and got to know each other. Mommas, let’s…

  • Reclaim the dinner table
  • Share a morning hot drink with our kids
  • Linger at “tuck-ins”
  • Create evening connecting time
  • Teen boys talk more when you are doing something as a family like chores, shopping, fishing, walking, driving to practices…etc. They often open up more shoulder-to-shoulder over face-to-face.
  • Text often
  • Tak when you have a minute here, a second there. (My sister gave the whole birds and the bees speech during car rides, switching the laundry, making her teen a snack – only small moments, no big talk!)
  • And more

Let’s create consistent times for our families to connect. Our kids will find comfort in the routine and will even look forward to it. That’s when they’ll learn to unpack their thoughts. Mommas let’s never underestimate the power of creating daily space.

Promote Conversation Through One-On-One Time

This has happened a million times in the high school classroom. The hard-to-love student stays after for help. When peers vanish and he is receiving 100% of my attention as I tutor him, a completely different side of him emerges. Often, I learn not just what he’s not understanding in math, but how he’s feeling, and what’s going on in his life.

Kids crave one-on-one adult attention. They thrive under it. If your child is acting too-cool for it, don’t buy into it. Create “special time” with your child.

  • Take a walk
  • Go to a movie
  • Grocery shop
  • Hike
  • Buy new school clothes
  • Sit at a cafe.
  • Drive them to weekly tutoring, even if he has his license. (I know a mom who did this – the 20-minute drive was their “talk time.” They both loved it.)
  • Find out what your kid wants to do and do it! (Again, a teen being able to focus on doing something often helps them feel more comfortable with opening up.)

Ask your child what they want to do and spend an hour, an evening, or a day with your child. There are things your child will tell you only when you are alone. You might not even have to ask the question – you have already set the stage for your child to open up to you.  Go get those spoken words.

quiet child
Connect with your quiet son over these conversation starters.

Tool #4: Share What’s Exciting and Interesting About Your Daily Life

Yes, we like to talk about that big promotion or the epic trip to Florida – but happiness comes from seeing the ordinary as fun. Every day there are vast opportunities to engage, share our gifts, and learn. All of life is exciting. I loved this quote:

“Most families tend to rush through dinner, especially the kids. They can’t wait to get back to their computers and cell phones and iPods. But they’ll stick around if the conversation is interesting. And the biggest determinant is YOU. If you see yourself and your life as a crashing bore, your kids will see the same thing. But if you see your life as an endless succession of miraculous and fascinating events, your kids will be transformed by it.” -Shmuley Boteach

Find ways to share your heart with your kids. I’m not asking you to be best friends with your kids, you still are THE PARENT, but share what makes you tick.

Your vulnerability will invite your child to open up. So, tell that antidote about your day. They’re listening, I promise – even if you think they aren’t.

Related Article: When You Doubt Your Sons Learn Your Life Lessons

Tool #5:  Ask Your Quiet Child Intentional Questions

My job as a high school teacher shifted within the school a few years back, and I found myself with a desk between the school counselor and the AP psychology teacher. Life. Changing. They taught me to better ask questions to help really get to know our students.

1. Find the types of questions your kid responds to.

Sometimes kids need warm-up questions before they’ll open up and share. Start the conversation about what your kid is passionate about and easily talks about. Even if that’s…ugh, the mindless, boring topic of video games. Ask about sports, art, friends, family…just get them to talk. Once kids get going talking, they’ll often more easily transition into deeper conversation.

For example, I found that if I ask my quiet child specific questions about their school-day routine, doing my best to not sound like I’m “grilling” him, I often stumble across gold.

This happened the other day when I asked him questions like,  Where is your locker located? How often do you go to it? After which class period? Do you talk to anyone at your locker? He shared that he felt like a friend who invites him over all the time and ignores him at school. Jackpot!

Keep asking questions. Be creative. You know your kid. What makes him talk? Start there and work yourself to the hard stuff (“How does that make you feel that your friend ignores you?”)

There are gems tucked in your kid’s words – be creative with your questions until you find them.

family at dinner table

2. Look for areas in the conversation where you can dive deeper.

Look for patterns in the conversation with your quiet child.

Once my son mentioned several times how “he forgot to send himself a valentines candy at school.” The school sold those candies you bought and sent to friends. Of course, the middle school boys either sent them to themselves or didn’t participate. I found out he thought it’d be nice to get one. I was surprised – I didn’t think he’d care. What are your kids repeating? What do you think that means? Ask them about it.

Look for the deeper life lessons and places for self-reflection tucked in the conversation

A friend told me her son only wants to talk about football. But there is a whole slew of life lessons in that sport. You could ask:

  • How are you a leader in football?
  • Which of your friends is the best at football? What makes them the best?
  • Does hard work matter?
  • How do you feel when the team loses?
  • How do you feel when you get knocked down?
  • What makes you angry about football?
  • Tell me about the aspects of football do you love the most?

Moms, what do you want to learn about your sons? How he thinks, feels, and connects with people? What makes him tick? Ask him those things, just tuck it into what he likes to talk about anyway.

quiet child
Connect with your quiet son over these conversation starters.

Tool #6: Listening to your quiet child

1. Practice Holding Your Tongue

The other night my son was upset with me and so he told me all the reasons. I thought he was being ridiculous, but instead of jumping into all the I-am-right-you-are-wrong-son, I held my tongue. I’d lecture him enough over the span of his life; he knows what I think. Instead, I thanked him for sharing his thoughts and tucked him into bed.

Just like we don’t always want people to “fix our problems,” our kids just sometimes want to be heard.  (Source)

2. Pay Attention to Body Language/Actions Telling You He Needs You to Listen

One son won’t ever say, “Mom, I want to talk.” But he’ll just hang around me. He’ll grab a book and read it in the same room. If I move, he’ll follow. I’ve learned when he sticks close to stop, if I look ready to listen, and ask, “What’s on your mind,” often, he actually tells me!

3. Listen Even When It’s Inconvenient

I had a cleaning schedule, I was so close to the end goal and right then and there one of my boys decided to open up. When I’m on a roll, it’s so darn hard to stop – but I did. And I learned some good stuff about my kid through his words. Our boys will open up at the most inconvenient times, but if communication is a goal, and if our task isn’t pressing, we should stop and listen.

Tool #7: Persist Again with your quiet child

You might be experiencing success and you might not  – either way, keep persisting. Show our sons that getting to know them through words isn’t a passing fad.

How do I Connect with Tween/Teenage Quiet Child More?

My sons will probably never come home for a 20-minute “play date” and tell me 30 minutes of details about what happened. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a need to communicate.

They need to be heard.

They need to build relationships by using words.

And who better to work with this on this than their moms – people who know words and like to use them. Persist. Pause to see your small progress. Keep moving forward. Go after your sons’ hearts with fervor.

Be encouraged not just in connecting with your quiet child, but also in all areas of parenting by reading the full series…

My oldest son started high school last week and I’m still in a coma because of it. Even though I’ve taught high school for over two decades, I’m confused as to how I’m actually old enough to be a parent of a high schooler. 

Teaching high schoolers has always been a passion of mine, but now parenting them is as well. I could research, write, and talk about this topic until eternity. I hope you are encouraged by some of my articles.

Parenting Tweens and Teens Series

A Simple and Effective Way to Encourage Your Teen

How to Get Your Teen/Teen to Their “Aha Moment”

Parenting is Hard: This One Thought Can Help You Better Thrive
7 Reasons Why Raising Tweens & Teens is the Best

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get your sons to talk to you