Talking with your daughter about sensitive issues is something that many moms dread. But you don’t need to have a formal sit-down. Having “the talk” about delicate subjects shouldn’t happen in one fell swoop, anyway. Follow these steps to help your daughter talk often with you about the issues she’s dealing with.
Start talking to your daughter early
Talking with your teenage daughter about important topics should start years before she reaches adolescence, says Atlanta pediatrician Deborah Pollack, MD. “The most important thing is for parents to have lots of small talks, not one big talk. Start early with age-appropriate discussions and advance as your child’s maturity advances, especially between ages 11 and 14.”
Be open when you talk with your daughter
Being open with your teenage daughter will help her talk to you, says Melanie Bliss, PhD, a clinical psychologist and part owner of THRIVE Center for Psychological Health in Decatur, Ga.
“If parents can be non-judgmental and open-minded, then kids will be more willing to approach them. When parents ask questions in an accusatory manner, the kids will put up walls. Open-ended questions like, ‘how do you feel about your friends these days?’ instead of ‘what happened at that party last night?’ allow more opportunity for discussion.”
Sharing your own experiences can also help when talking to your daughter, says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor and vice chair, Emory Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in Atlanta. Mothers can become a role model when they share just enough – but not too much – about their own teen years. “Share with them personal things, without telling them things that wouldn’t be appropriate,” she says.”
Find the balance between friend and bother
For most moms, the line between friend and authority figure is a tightrope walk, especially during a girl’s teen years.
Kay Entrekin, MD, an Atlanta obstetrician-gynecologist, is also the parent of two teenage daughters. She coaches parents and teens on how to communicate through a program titled “Puberty Rocks.” Though the balance isn’t easy to strike, she says a teenage girl needs guidance more than she needs another buddy.
“Professionally, I know that you must be parent first and friend second. In general, the more you listen and try to understand the underlying reason for your daughter’s frustration or worries or other troubling emotions, the easier it is to get to a solution,” she says. “Getting angry generally doesn’t work well and neither does being a girlfriend at all times.”
Bliss agrees that trying to be too much of a friend can backfire. “Sometimes parents try so hard to make themselves approachable that they insert themselves into the details of their kid’s world. Most kids like to keep their worlds separate. They want to have a parent there for parental things, but they don’t always want their parents involved in their personal world,” she says.
Good parents can be their teen’s occasional confidante, and yet still have appropriate authority and set healthy boundaries, says Kaslow. “I think first and foremost it is important for mothers and their daughters to have a loving and close relationship, so that the daughter feels safe, securely attached, valued, respected, and cared for,” she says.
Set limits with your daughter
It can be a struggle to know how strict or permissive to be when talking to your teenage daughter. You want to encourage responsibility without triggering rebellion. Setting limits can take the confusion out of being a teenager for the both of you, says Bliss.
“I encourage parents to set limits early on and specify what the consequences will be if they’re overstepped. Speak to teenagers in a compassionate way and be open-minded,” she says. “Kids are having sex, using drugs — especially marijuana — and drinking. You can tell them,
‘I know what goes on and this is what I expect, this is what I don’t expect.’”
In fact, behavioral parameters provide security that your teenage girl craves. “Part of a loving relationship is the safety that is created when mothers set appropriate boundaries and limits. So, mothers need to consider asserting their parental authority as a reflection of their love and connection with their daughters,” says Kaslow.
Be detailed in talks with tour daughter
When is your well-intended information considered TMI for your daughter? Your teenage girl will tell you when to stop, verbally or otherwise, says Kaslow. Look for the signs. “If she is getting overwhelmed or shutting down or pushing them away, it is best to change subjects and go back to the topic at a later time.”
Don’t be afraid to be specific, Pollack tells WebMD. “I encourage parents to talk until their teenager says ‘that’s enough now!’ If you’re keeping the conversation too general, she may not feel comfortable asking questions.”
Find solutions together
“It works best when mothers and their daughters collaborate and problem solve together when there are differences of opinion,” says Kazlow.
Allow your teen to sort through her options when you talk about a problem she’s having. Teens need some guidance, but they also “want to be a part of the solution — not just told what the solution is,” Entrekin tells WebMD.
Have family rituals and outings to get your daughter talking
No matter how well prepared you are, talking with your daughter about sex, drugs, alcohol, and emotions can feel daunting. But there are ways to break the ice.
“Have family rituals, like Friday night dinner, for example,” says Bliss.
“If you start these traditions early, your child will want to keep them going through their teenage years.”
“If the child has siblings, especially, do things that that just mother and daughter enjoy: shopping, manicures, watching a movie or television show, cooking dinner,” suggests Bliss.
“Car rides are also a great time to talk because you don’t have to make eye contact,” Bliss says. “An overnight trip can be a great way to talk too, because it gets the teen away from their peer group. It should be something exciting.”
Some activities with your teenager can foster other good things in addition to positive shared time. “Try baking and cooking, outdoor activities, paint pottery, volunteer as a chaperone for a school or church outing for your daughter’s age group, go out to eat or shopping,” says Entrekin. “My favorite is participating in community service.”
Use everyday media to trigger conversations with your daughter
“If you see a billboard or something on TV that sends the right or wrong message you can ask your daughter, ‘what do you think about that?’” says Pollack. “If you do watch TV and films with your teen, there are a lot of opportunities to talk.”
Don’t think about it as “having the talk.” Make communication with your teenage girl an integral part of your life together. You can provide the support she needs every day of the year.