“I Don’t know!”: How to Communicate with your Teen

What do you do when you ask your child a question and they respond with “I don’t know”? This 3-word phrase can be used in a varietymother and teen daughter talking of situations to evade sharing information or avoid diving in deeper into a topic. So, the real question at hand is how to get your teen to open up the lines of communication in a non-threatening and informative way. School-aged children are familiar with plug-and-chug in terms of math equations and the same can be transformed into a mode for communication. “I Feel” statements are explicit, concrete and allow the teen to filter out what is going on, why it is going on, how it makes them feel and how they can work towards resolution.

The equation is as follows:

  • I feel:
  • When you:
  • Because:
  • In the future:

Instead of acting out or keeping their emotions inside due to confusion or perceived lack of support for their self-expression, the “I feel” statement helps them to understand the situation that is triggering their emotion, how they interpret the event and allows them to provide a solution so that they can avoid the same problem in the future.

For example, your teen explodes when you ask them to do their homework. Upon completion of an “I feel” statement, you might come to find out the following:

  • I feel: frustrated
  • When you: nag me to do my homework
  • Because: it makes me feel as though you don’t trust me to do it on my own
  • In the future: can you trust that I will do my homework when you ask me one time

Whether or not you are aware of the stimulating event, “I feel” statements can be used in times to activate emotions or as a tool to help your teen unload during non-threatening times.

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