A first question to ask is why is the child closed down? Opening up happens in an environment of trust and safety. Closing down happens when safety and trust are not present. So how does safety and trust get threatened?
Children close down because of feeling judged and having one’s experience/feelings diminished or invalidated. At some point it becomes easier to say nothing rather than to say something and risk it being judged, corrected or dismissed.
As parents we can think our job is to correct and instruct our children. This instinct (rather this conditioning)…is overdone.
So what to do?
Repair with your child. Acknowledge the tone that you have created if has been a tone of over correcting and judgment. Apologize with no excuses.
Validate and empathize with your child about what this could have felt like. Tell them that they did not deserve this and that you’d like to create something else.
Give them space to have their feelings about this and to respond. Be quiet. Be open.
Redefine your role as a parent. Consider less teaching, less correcting and less judging and more listening, quiet, reflecting and curious questioning.
Listening, accepting, validating and curiosity are the keys to being a place for someone to open up.
It is in the space (the receptive energy) that you hold, that you create, and the literal space of you not talking, THAT is what will invite your child to speak.
Do not expect too much too soon. You must earn trust over time.
Ask your child open ended questions (do not interrogate), ask opinions, ask advice… And then listen. Don’t offer your advice in these moments, don’t offer your take, be quiet, nod, listen and ask another questions. Or simply say “Tell me more about that.” Be eager in your listening and your curiosity.
Allow some conversations to be just about them and your desire to know more about them. De-center yourself from the conversation. Let go of a need to be right.
Thank your child for the conversation…even if it was just them mostly talking.
For some context and to help you step into the shoes of your child: Imagine hanging out with a boss or a friend who regularly had an opinion who regularly thought he was right and who regularly wanted to teach you something. We would get tired of this. We will see this person as ego centered and condescending. We would soon not want to engage too much with this person. It makes sense.
But this is what many kids experience in relationships with parents. There is a societal notion that the main role of a parent should be to know things, should be in control, should shape and teach, should instruct and correct. It’s understandable, but largely ego driven. We can do some of these things some of the time….But all of the time without occupying the role of listener, learner and equal, will have your child shutting down, fighting back and avoiding you.
There are some natural and understandable things that occur with regard to teenagers separating, individuating and becoming independent from their parents.
But sometimes there’s an extra layer of protection to chip through in order to be able to communicate openly, especially if there has been a history of over correcting and judging.
Lines of communication can be opened. Trust can be restored.