3 Ways to Help Get More Communication from Your Teen

Part 2: Make the Car a “Safe Zone”

By: Lora Ferguson, LPC-S, CPDT

One of the biggest no-no’s that parents are regularly committing is making the car a place where they connect with their teen.  Your kiddos rely on you for regular transportation, and in the car, there is nowhere to hide! The car is the perfect place to talk, right?

Imagine your teen’s perspective: she’s been “on” all day at school, learning, working, and socializing.  She had to remember her homework in Algebra, her project from Spanish, and her orchestra instrument.  She took a test in Language Arts and a quiz in World Geography.  Her best friend cried at lunch because her boyfriend was being distant, her friend group had some drama about a SnapChat post gone wrong, and her favorite teacher is out for the rest of the year because her mom is sick. Her head and heart are full from an exhausting day.   She gets in the car at the end of the day and shuts the door, ready to relax. Finally, no one is needing her or asking her to do anything.  

Instead, there you are, eager to talk – “How was your day?” “Did you do well on your quiz?” “Is Sarah still mad at Craig?” “Did you remember your project?”  You may have been thinking about her all day and wondering how she is doing, so when you see her, it feels natural to want to check in about all of these things, to show her you care, and to connect.  

However, it is critical that you give her the time and space she needs to decompress first, and that is different for every teen.  Most of them need at least a few minutes to stare out the window or listen to their music, and many of them need much more than that.  Notice their body language and cues – do they seem eager to talk right now? If not, respect their boundary and wait.  Nothing is worse than feeling cornered, even if you have the best intentions.  

And if you do have something import you need to confront your teen about, say their lack of studying in the evenings or refusal to follow your rule of no food in bedrooms, ask them when a good time would be to talk.  Find them at a neutral time at home, such as after dinner or during breakfast, and say “Hey- I want to check in with you about studying.  Would tonight or tomorrow night be better for you? What time?” Give them choices and some power to say what works for them.  Just because the issue feels urgent to you doesn’t mean it actually IS urgent.  Take a few deep breaths and seek cooperation and connection with your teen, not conflict and control.  

For more insight, consider signing up for our Positive Discipline Workshop for parents of teens and tweens!  Click HERE for more info. To read part 1: Why Won’t My Teen Talk to Me?, click HERE.


6 Communication Strategies You Need to Know for Your ADHD Child

There are several learning curves to raising a child. Let alone one with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). At times, it can feel frustrating, overwhelming, and confusing, but it can also feel rewarding, successful, and loving. In my experience working with children and parents, communication seems to be an especially challenging area. Here are some questions to consider to help increase satisfaction and connection in communicating with your child.

How Do You Know They Are Listening?

Listen and learn from your child to see how your child acts when he or she is listening. Although most people use consistent eye-contact to relay listening, this may not be possible for your kid with ADHD. He or she may not be able to maintain eye contact with you and may fidget during a conversation. This does not mean the child is not listening, but likely that he or she listens differently. Maybe ask your child, “how can I know you are listening?”, “how can you show me you are listening?”, or “what can I do to help you listen?”. Employing your child to help will encourage him or her to find coping strategies on their own, and will allow you and your child to problem solve together when challenges come up. This could mean providing your kids with a “tool” to use when listening – like a ball to squeeze or toss.

How Do They Need Directions?

It can be difficult to give simple, step-by-step directions when we are in a rush or trying to get something accomplished quickly. Although it feels counter-intuitive, it is important to provide simple, direct directions to our children with ADHD in order to be most effective. Try to give only one or two steps at a time. This will help your child accomplish the tasks without getting too overwhelmed, and will provide better results for yourself in the end.

Can You Get Creative?

Every child is completely unique and often require different strategies from one another. However, we also know that children with ADHD respond very well to visual aids. Many children with ADHD struggle with routines because of all the information to remember. Take bedtime for example. They may need to take a bath, brush their hair, brush their teeth, put on their pajamas, read a story, etc. This is hard to do when there are siblings playing, parents completing their own tasks, spiraling thoughts, and many, many other distractions. For many ADHD kids, having images to refer to can help. Create a printout with simple images illustrating the necessary bedtime tasks like teeth brushing, a bathtub, PJs, and whatever else is on their routine list. Put them in order and place the list somewhere that is easy for them to see, like the fridge or their bedroom door. When they get off track, ask them what picture is next on their list or have them pick which task from the list they would like to complete now. This is just one example of a creative method to encouraging children with ADHD to remain on task, create focus, and help prevent you from feeling frustrated.

What Choices Can You Give Them?

Children can not always have the final decision on when to go to bed or go to school. But you can encourage them to play a part in it. Ask them what clothes they want to wear or where they would like to sit in the car? It can be small, but giving them these choices help them focus on one task at a time, and feel heard and invested in.

What Part Do You Play In The Situations?

We always need to look within and see how we impact the frustrating situations. One of the biggest complaints for parents is loosing their temper or control. Children sense this and often respond strongly. It is important to stay calm and speak softly. This will help prevent stimulating the ADHD child so they can remain calm also. If they react strongly, step away and begin something calmly and quietly that they will want to participate in. This will help show them how to regulate in a healthy manner, and give you time to breath and calm as well.

Can You Help Set Your Child Up To Succeed?

You may be the parent, but children still have a need to understand. Let the child know your expectations before an event or experience. Remember to keep it simple and easy to understand, maybe bring a ball or toy they can hold on to, or ask them what they need in order to follow your directions.

Parenting an ADHD child can be challenging, but it can be easily managed when we learn to be creative and listen to our child’s needs. Be kind to yourself and your child. You are both learning. If you make a mistake, go back and make amends. Show your child what it means to follow up, and adjust when something has not been done correctly. Reward the positive behavior- yours and theirs. If you get overwhelmed, seek out a parenting or support group. Maybe find a counselor for yourself or your child. You are not in this alone!

Austin Therapist Grace Shook, LPC-Intern

By: Grace Shook, LPC-Intern
Supervised By: Lora Ferguson, LPC-S


What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Think about a someone in your life (past or present) that you have/had romantic feelings for.  What did that person do for you that made you feel particularly special?  For some people, their partner bought them “just because” flowers…for others, it’s a long embrace after not seeing one another all day.  Everyone will likely have a different answer to this–which is the beauty of relationships and the diversity of what people want…and need.  People, in all relationships, show love through their love language.  A love language depicts how you want to be shown that you’re valued and appreciated; in so many words, a love language is how you want to be loved.  


By: Julie Burke, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT

There are 5 Different Love Languages

Words of Affirmation

This language uses words to affirm other people

  • How to speak this love language: Encourage, affirm, appreciate, listen activity, send an unexpected note or card
  • Things to avoid: Non-constructive criticism, not recognizing or appreciating effort
Quality Time

This requires giving someone undivided attention

  • How to speak this love language: Uninterrupted and focused conversations, meaningful one-on-one interactions, create special moments together, go on a weekend getaway together
  • Things to avoid: Distractions when spending time together (eg: cell phones, televisions, etc.), long stints without one-on-one time
Receiving Gifts

For some people, what makes them feel most loved is to receive a gift.

  • How to speak this love language: Speak purposefully and thoughtfully, express gratitude when receiving a gift, give a meaningful gift, remember that small gestures matter
  • Things to avoid: Forget special occasions  
Acts of Service 

For people who’s love language is acts of service–think of the phrase “actions speak louder than words”.  

  • How to speak this love language: Show your partner that you’re with them and partnered with them–use phrases such as “I’ll help…” or “Let’s do this together…”, make them breakfast in bed and help with various chores
  • Things to avoid: Lack follow-through on tasks (both big & small), making requests of others a higher priority  
Physical Touch

To this person, nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch

  • How to speak this love language: use body language and tough to emphasize love, hug, hold hands, kiss, making intimacy a thoughtful priority
  • Things to avoid: Physical neglect, long stints without intimacy, receiving affection coldly  

It is important to know what you and your partner’s love languages are (they may be different, by the way) because it allows you to communicate to your partner that you care about them and are speaking to their needs.  Because the way we want to be loved seems most familiar and makes most sense to us, people most often try to give love using their love language–which is not always what is needed.  The following example will make all of this make more sense.  

I know of a couple–it is a husband and wife.  The wife’s love language is receiving gifts.  This does NOT mean that in order for her to feel loved or special, that her husband is required to purchase her gifts all the time, by the way.  Rather, if her husband happens to surprise her with a gift–whether it’s a book she’s been wanting or a massage–it’s going to be meaningful to her and she will feel special and loved that her husband thought of her and gave her something.  Her husband’s love language, on the other hand, is words of affirmation.  Recently, the wife purchased her husband a sports jersey for his favorite football team.  Because that is her love language, she was under the assumption that that gift would be a great gesture to say “I love you”.  While the husband appreciated the gift, it just felt like any other day…just with the addition of a new clothing item because she was trying to show love by loving her husband with her love language.  She ultimately realized that in order for him to feel special and loved, her husband needed to hear something affirming eg: “You are a really great partner and parent and I appreciate you”.  From her perspective, she assumed he should be aware of those things already–so it did not feel necessary to share those things with him.  That’s simply because that’s not how she needs to be loved, though.

I already mentioned this, but it seems necessary to do this again.  If you’re with someone and their love language is “receiving gifts” for example–it does NOT mean that you will have to purchase them gifts all the time to show them affection; it’s the same with quality time–if your love language is quality time–it doesn’t mean that absolutely every interaction you have with your significant other is mandated to be undivided attention towards one another.  After all, people who have quality time as their love language also really appreciate receiving gifts and physical touch, too (and vice versa).  

It’s really quite simple.  If you are aware of what your partner’s love language is, it will allow you to be more attuned to them and you’ll be able to show them in a way that’s meaningful to them that you love and care about them.  In the above example with the husband and wife, keep in mind that the wife just assumed her husband knew that he was a great partner and parent.  It may feel insignificant to you, but keep in mind, this is not about you.  This is entirely about your partner and what they need to feel significance and belonging from you.  

While my focus has been on romantic partners, it’s important to note that this speaks volumes for all genuine, interpersonal relationships people have.  Love languages can be applied to your friends, family, and colleagues, too.  Check out the love languages quiz here and see what your love language is.  Be mindful of the fact that your love language can (and does) change–so it’s a great idea to revisit the quiz from time to time!  

Love can be expressed and received in all five languages.  However, if you don’t speak a person’s primary love language that person will not feel loved, even though you may be speaking the other four.  Once you are speaking his or her primary love language fluently, then you can sprinkle in the other four and they will be like icing on the cake.  – Gary Chapman


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