Here they are, way simple:
1. Don’t talk, listen. Or at least, talk less, listen more.
2. Don’t talk directly to your child. Let him overhear you expressing your concern or uncertainty (but not any criticism or judgment) to someone else.
3. Write him or her a letter. Yep. Actually on paper. (Less likely to elicit an immediate and defensive reaction).
OK. Now for a little elaboration:
1. Don’t talk, listen. Or at least, listen more.
Sometimes we grown ups talk too much. Especially when we are worried or upset. This is guaranteed to shut a kiddo down. So try to listen more, talk less. Its hard I know. Example: Your child (we’ll call him Jacob) seems increasingly isolated and alone. In talk-more-mode you might “encourage” him by suggesting fun things to do with friends, or talk (lecture) about how important social relationships are, or ask why (most kids hate the “why-word”) he is not getting out. In listen-more mode you might just pick a quiet moment when Jacob is calm and relaxed and just make a brief comment, something like: “Seems like you haven’t been seeing your friends as much recently.” This gives him an opening to talk if he is ready but no demand that he must do so.
2. Don’t talk directly to your child. Let him overhear you expressing your concern or uncertainty to someone else.
I call this “The Overheard Conversation Gambit”. The approach is indirect. You are giving the child a chance to understand your concern with no immediate reaction called for. You are much more likely to get thoughtful communication when the child is ready. Example: We’ll use Jacob again. You might wait until you know he can overhear you and say to your spouse/your friend/a grandparent: “I’m a little concerned about Jake. He’s not seeing his friends as much. I remember it was a little hard for me when I was (Jacob’s age). I wonder if something’s up?” Jake is not likely to react immediately and much more likely to hear your words as concern rather than criticism or an attempt to control. Again, you are giving him an opening to talk when he is ready.
3. Write him or her a letter. Yep. Actually on paper. (It is less likely to elicit an immediate defensive reaction).
Real letters. On real paper. An art in decline. But the beauty of a letter is that it allows, even demands, stepping away from the immediacy of actions and feelings and invites reflection and thought. Unlike email. Or texts. So we could all write our Jacobs a letter. Put it in an envelope. Slide it under his door or leave it on his desk or bed. (If there is a square foot that is clear.) It would have the basically same content as above, but a different format or context for inviting communication.
These strategies are very helpful for emotionally reactive kids with ADHD. And for kids on the autism spectrum. And anxious kids. And just-plain-old-kids trying to cope with a complicated and way too demanding world.
Actually, like many strategies that help with children, these tips work great for harried spouses too.
Give them a try and then, please, come back and comment here to let us know what you discover.