How to help your teenager open up

Adolescents and teens are being told what to do all day, every day.  Their natural reaction is to push back, especially against their parents.  One of the primary needs of a young person is to discover who they are and determine their own individual priorities and values.

It’s human nature.  If your child is struggling with something, often they don’t want you to solve it for them.

What they really need is a sounding board to work it out on their own.

Today, I am going to offer you a few different ways to open the lines of communication with your child.  This is critical if you want to support them through the ups and downs of competitive sport, school, and life.

5 Ways to Open the Lines of Communication with Your Teen

1. Love unconditionally

Of course this goes without saying, but it’s important to keep it in the forefront of your mind when you’re dealing with a resistant teenager.

Your child may not want to talk about it.  Ever.

Let them know that you love them either way:

  • Whether they open up or not
  • Whether they succeed or not
  • Whether they learn the lesson you want them to learn or not

This lays the foundation.  It creates a safe space for your child to come to you when/if they’re ready.

2. Ask good questions

The question, “How are you doing?” will always get the same answer… “Fine.”

If you want better quality answers, ask better questions.  Avoid “yes” or “no” questions because that provides an easy out.  Ask questions that make them think.  Then, remember to pause and let them take their time to answer.  Sometimes jumping in with a new question will interrupt a valuable train of thought.

For a list of powerful questions to ask, see below.

3. Remain neutral

This is easier said than done.  Especially when you’re concerned about your child, or you’re battling over something that seems really important.

Questions like, “What happened?”  Or “Well now what are you going to do?” can carry a critical undertone that will lead to more shutdown.

I recommend approaching all discovery questions with an underlying curiosity.  There’s a big difference between “why do you think that happened?” said with a twinge of sarcasm vs. compassion and curiosity.

If you create a neutral environment, your child will be less afraid of being judged or criticized (two qualities that go against the adolescent drive to figure out “who am I?”)

It’s important that your child feels safe to come to you to talk out a difficult issue without assuming you’ll jump in and disapprove or try to solve the “problem.”

If your child feels listened to, then they might ask for your input.

When it comes to their sport, don’t offer advice unless you’re asked.  Even then, it still might be more effective to answer their question with another question like “What do you think?” before you try to offer a solution.

4. Become their teammate, not their coach

Think of yourself as a detective.  Your child is your partner, not your subordinate.  The most effective way to support a young person through a tough time is to work together with them to find clues about what will solve their problem.

Could a change in perspective help?  Do they need to communicate with someone?  What’s the lesson?

Even if you KNOW you have the answer, help them search for it.  Ultimately, in order to learn valuable lessons, they have to find it for themselves.

I see the best results when parents team up with their kids to help them search for what’s working and what’s not.

5. Let them choose

Once you’ve dug up the necessary clues, you ultimately need to let them decide how to solve it.

What worked better when they were toddlers… asking them, “Do you want broccoli?” or asking, “Would you rather have broccoli or green beans?”

When you give them the choice, they take ownership of it and you can help hold them accountable.

I hope these tips prove useful in working on communicating with your athlete.  How you talk with one another can improve not only your relationship with each other but also their relationship with their sport.

Good luck!


Is your gymnast struggling with mental blocks or fear?  Check out my FREE resource for parents.