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My 12 y/o daughter used to be very open. A great communicator. Very warm and gregarious.

A few months ago (right around the time her body started changing) she gradually started changing her pattern. Now she only speaks in one-word (or one-sentence) answers to direct questions. "Yes." "No." And her favorite / most common: "I don't know." Even to questions she clearly knows the answer to.

Example #1

Question: "How are you feeling today?"
Answer: "I don't know."

She doesn't seem "rude." Or angry. Just not interested in communicating.

The reason I added the facts that this all started around the time her body started changing and that is was gradual is because it seems to me to be a natural adolescent / pre-teen behavior pattern. (And not the result of some "event.")

Example #2

Today, I explained to her that it's difficult to have a conversation with her when she only gives one-word answers. Then I paused to give her space to respond. After a long silence, she said, "Oh, so now you're going to stop talking to me!?" After explaining to her what just happened, and still getting no conversation, I finally ended by giving up and just saying, "Okay, sweetie. Thank you. Have a nice day. I love you." I try to always keep everything positive.

My question is...

Question

What approach can I use to get her to talk to me in something other than one-word or single-sentence answers to direct questions?

Also: How hard should I try to have a conversation when I get the results described in Example #2? Should I just let everything "work itself out?" And wait until she wants to talk? Or otherwise outgrows this phase? Or should I press harder? Or try something altogether different? Like go to a movie or something?

  • Have you asked her directly whether something is wrong? It might be something happened that caused this that she is afraid to talk about. – Erik Aug 19 '15 at 5:21
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    What happens if you find a topic that she's passionate about (a book she's read, a movie you just saw, a sport, unicorns, monster trucks, whatever)? She may just not have much to say about how she's feeling today or what happened at school (both fairly broad questions on the face). Also, have you observed this lack of communication with others (friends, family, neighbors) or is it just you? – Acire Aug 19 '15 at 11:22
  • @Erik: Yes, I always begin specifically by asking her directly if something is wrong. And I have thoroughly discussed the "meta" issue with her. i.e., the behavior itself and how I feel about it. I am convinced at this point there is no specific event that caused this and it's a "normal" adolescent behavior. – Mowzer Aug 19 '15 at 16:25
  • @Erica: It seems to be a broad pattern exhibited with others. And on the occasions when a topic comes up that piques her interest, she becomes more engaging. But it doesn't last. She returns relatively quickly to the short answers once the topic is over. I want to stress, I don't think there is anything "wrong" or "wrong with her." I just want some ideas, tips or tricks how to deal with this adolescent behavior if others have experienced it. – Mowzer Aug 19 '15 at 16:27
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    Book recommendation: "How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk" by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish – A E Aug 21 '15 at 8:02
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As with any relationship issue, I would recommend not trying to change her, but to work on changing you. Work on becoming the kind of person a teen would want to open up to.

First, you need to create opportunities. That means do activities together where talking is okay, but silences aren't awkward. That eliminates movies because you can't talk. Sporting events or a fair might work, but it's difficult to do those often enough. Something like a project of her choice or chores is best.

Chores sounds odd, because it's often a source of conflict, but it's the most frequent opportunity you have. When I was a teen, my Mom nagged me to do the dishes. My Dad often just picked up a dish towel and quietly dried while I washed. Guess which one I opened up to?

Second, dial back the pressure. If she thinks the only reason you're doing things with her is to force her to open up, she will resent the activities. Just be patient and enjoy the activities for their own sake. Do it without expecting anything in return. Make it part of your routine. It might take several weeks before she trusts you don't have an ulterior motive. Planning a one-time event won't work.

Third, open up yourself. Tell her about your day and what's on your mind. Tell her what you remember about being her age. Tell her what you enjoyed about the latest book you read.

Finally, if and when she does open up, don't judge or try to fix. Just listen, and validate. Show confidence in her. You can express confidence without leaving her hanging by saying something like, "That's a difficult situation. Did you want my help with it, or did you just want me to know?"

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