One of the most common questions that parents have been asking me recently is “why won’t my children talk to me?”. These parents are dealing with children who have anger, anxiety, sleeping problems and all sort of things! Many parents stress that the child or young person won’t tell them what is wrong and they, as the parent, know that there is an issue, and a lot of parents are left feeling clueless because they don’t understand why their child or young person won’t speak to them and discuss the problem. I have parents who say how they’ve got a good relationship and how they come from a loving family and how they have always been able to talk to each other, but it seems like we’ve hit an age where they just don’t want to tell the parents anything!
Sometimes children do not talk to their parents because they know that you are going to start providing them with ideas and solutions to solve the problem and they also know that your job is to give them ideas and solutions to solve the problem, but it doesn’t mean that they’re the right ideas and solutions. I’ll let you into a secret: the chances are they probably are the right ideas and solutions, but your child isn’t going to listen to you. You’re their parent you’re saying those things because you love them.
Sometimes they need to have that outside influence coming in to give them the reassurance that they need that those things that you are saying are true, you know if your child has low self-esteem, and you say as the parent, but you are a wonderful, creative and beautiful individual. They’re going to be like “well of course. you’re going to say that you’re my mum, that’s your job. Your job is to tell me those things”.
This is what goes on for them at an unconscious level and that’s why those suggestions that you’re making get so readily and easily batted away. When you have an outsider that comes in and says but you’re a beautiful, creative and intelligent individual. They’re like “Am I? Me? Why thank you!”. It’s much easier for them to process that information not least because it’s actually coming from an authority figure now that’s not to say that you’re not an authority as a parent but it’s just it’s a different kind of authority. It’s a bit like the white coat syndrome, you know if you go to the doctors and the doctor says that you’re poorly, it’s like you’re officially poorly because a doctor has said so. It’s the same kind of thing here.
Sometimes the right advice and reassurance that you’re giving are on the money, but they need someone who is an outsider to say it. They believe it is your job to say those lovely things as a parent and that is one of the biggest reasons why children don’t listen to their parents.
Another reason why your children won’t listen to you is that you are there a lot in their lives… like all the time. You are a constant continual source for them, and it gets easy to not listen to people that you are talking to all the time, you know, the people that you’ve spent your whole entire life talking to and listening to it’s almost like their voice can blur into the background.
However, when it’s a new voice it’s almost like it’s a new source of sensory stimulation. It’s much easier to pay attention too. In fact, it is true that our brains like similarity, so we feel a more sense of comfort and reassurance around the things that are the same for us. I.e., You as the parent.
However, we notice what is different so this new sense of reassurance, this new sensory stimulation that comes in from an outsider who says ‘let me tell you how to resolve your anxiety issues’ that’s something that can be paid attention to because this is a different voice. This is a different person that sat there in front of them, they like you. Our brains like what’s the same! You’re their parent they like you, you’re good but they may not notice what you say because they’re used to hearing you say stuff and sometimes it all just blurs in together.
Here’s the thing, it’s fine you’re not doing a bad job as a parent if your child might listen to you. In fact, you’re doing a perfectly brilliant job. We know that because this is an ordinary outcome and an ordinary reaction. What’s important is that if they are experiencing challenges that you find the right people to put them in front of. Someone that they know who will listen and that they feel comfortable to open up and share whatever it is that they want to resolve with that person.
The original version of this article was written by Gemma Bailey, director of
It was republished and rebuilt with additional content by NLP4KIDS PRACTITIONER IAN DAVIES