Your 10-year-old comes home from school in a bad mood. He slams the front door, throws his coat and schoolbag on the floor, grabs a book and slumps on the couch without uttering a word.

You see that he obviously had a tough day and are wondering whatHe slams the front door is going on with him. You try to greet him warmly, but he just ignores you. As soon as his siblings get too close, he screams and pushes them away. So you ask him what happened, and why he is in such a bad mood. He frowns and screams, “NOTHING!”

Parents will react differently to a situation like this. But however parents react, they will be wondering what is really happening with their child, and how to reach him and help him talk so that he will feel better.

There are a variety of reasons why your children might not want to talk to you about their problems (especially as they get older). It could be that they feel that coming to their parents with their problems shows weakness, or they might be afraid of being judged or punished. It might also be the case that they don’t believe that their parents can actually help them. Sometimes they are so upset that they just need time to calm down before they can talk.

What sometimes happens is that a child wants to communicate his distress, but is also not quite ready to talk about it. And so he communicates how upset he is with his attitude.

While the child is upset, he might also be unsure how much he can trust your relationship in that moment, and whether he will feel safe and soothed, or he will feel unsafe and more agitated if he shares his problem. This inner conflict as to whether or not to communicate his distress can be distressing in itself.

Be Nurturing and Patient

At this point, it’s important to reflect your child’s struggle to back him, and to honor andrespect his ambivalence in talking to you about it, without pushing him to reveal anything.

The next step is to create an atmosphere that is inviting for him so that he feels at least tempted to share. For example, saying, “I am here if you want to talk,” instead of, “Talk to me.” This stage requires a lot of patience and trust, because it is really about his ability to share, and not about you knowing the details of the story. The goal here is to help him develop a sense of personal responsibility and independence as to what to share, when to share, and with whom to share. This is a crucial skill for life.

After he reveals some of his experiences, it’s vital that youIt's vital that you make him feel safe make him feel safe. You do that by empathizing with his problem, not making him feel guilty for what happened and, at least in the beginning, not taking any concrete action about it (unless there are urgent circumstances). Right now, he needs to share his experience and not carry it all alone.

Remember that your role is not to make your child talk to you, but to create an atmosphere where he feels willing and safe enough to share with you.

Here is a breakdown of the steps to follow in this situation:

1. Respect your child’s dilemma

Honor and respect your child’s dilemma and ambivalence in talking to you about something difficult. Tell her that you understand that this is really a difficult struggle.

2. Be inviting

Create a sense of safety through acceptance and patience, and show your child that you care about her. Give your child time until she is ready to share on her own. Find a way to connect to her, and spend some quality time with her, independent of her decision to share with you or not.

3. Maintain the feeling of safety

After she does share, maintain the feeling of safety by empathizing and being present with her. Don’t take any immediate action. Most problems don’t have to be solved within 24 hours. Know that sharing is a process that comes in stages, and she might not share everything the first time, or there might be parts of the story she will choose to keep to herself. Understand that her experience of sharing her burden with you is the biggest gift you can give to your child, and it will be an important factor in processing and overcoming whatever difficulty she is going through. This will enable her to seek support and help in the future.