Here is a great question from a reader from a while back - I just discovered it!:
What if your teen doesn't say anything, even though you give them the
first chance to talk or what if they consistently say "I don't know"?
When teens "opt out" every time there is a conversation, the parent may
have to be the only one talking. Then it turns into lecture again
instead of a dialogue.
It's like opening a trap door instead of a window.
So many parents are faced with this problem on a daily basis. It becomes a sad routine which neither parent nor child enjoy, but the parent wants to make the effort. Here is my suggestion. First, just forget about having a conversation for a day or two and simply smile, give eye contact, and say a normal greeting, like, "Hi, how's it going?" or "How're you doing?" or "what's up?" Whatever is most normal to you, but one of those greetings for which people usually don't expect a response. And don't expect one this time either. The greeting is meant only as a greeting, to acknowledge the other person and wish them well. Simply smile and go about your business.
Your child will notice that you have not tried to start a conversation. They may anticipate one later. So keep this up for a day or two. Your child may actually be the first one to break the pattern. They may ask, "What's up?" or "Why no questions?" and so on. Just smile and say something like, "I thought I'd give you some space," or "I know you've got lots going on and me too, so I thought I'd lighten up."
If the teen doesn't make the first move, then on the third day say, share something that is going on for you. Like, you had to go back to the store for something you forgot. Or your coworker said something nice to you today. Or you are planning to buy a new cushion for the dog. Something non-controversial and basically about your experience of life.
You'll probably get an "Oh" response, but if you do this for a day or two, chances are very good the child will start to share that kind of thing herself or himself.
Next, you can start asking open ended questions, not like "How was school today," but rather, "I forgot what I came into the room for just now. Did that ever happen to you?" Or, my friend is having a birthday and I want to get her more than just a card. Any suggestions?"
Ask about common human experiences or ask for everyday kind of advice. By doing this, you are acknowledging the humanness and growing maturity of your child. Exactly what she or he needs to begin to trust that you appreciate them as maturing beings with their own good sense and values. This kind of acknowledgment is irresistible to kids - and to all of us - and will lead to a more open and respectful relationship which will keep on growing.
It sounds like quite a process, but if you review it each day and stick with it, you will be surprised and delighted with the results. The big temptation is that when you start to feel the gates are opening you will just rush right in with attempts at deeper probing etc. Resist! Before you know it, your conversations will make you proud.
Randy Rolfe's Take Home Tip: Kids need full recognition throughout their lives and even from a young age for their worthiness and importance. This doesn't mean constant praise or unrealistic expectations. Instead it means honoring their words by listening free of judgment or agenda, responding to their expressed needs in caring ways, asking their opinion in matters that concern them, and being clear about your interest in advising and protecting them with regard to finding their way in the world.