What Do I Say ???


by Danelle Spence



The following bullets are some ideas of what to specifically say if you are stuck with how to emotionally attend and connect with your teen. Some of these you will really like and use. Some of these you will hate and throw away. It’s all about adding the right tools to your personal parenting repertoire!

Some ‘Emotionally Attuned’ Scripts:

  • It looks like you’re feeling really wound up – I can see that. Do you want to tell more about what’s been happening?
  • I want to say the right thing, but I’m working on knowing how. Let me know if I get something wrong, ok? Or if I you feel I don’t understand you…
  • I hope that’s true, but I’m worried…
  • If there was something bothering you, could you tell me?
  • I know you’ve been having a really hard time. I’m going to make sure you and I can spend more time together, just hanging out.  Would that help?
  • It sounds like you’re really having a hard time with <BLANK> right now… do you feel like telling me any more about that?
  • What do you think might have to happen, for you to begin to like yourself?
  • Is there any help that I can give, that would make it easier for you to not <BLANK>?
  • I understand it’s entirely up to you whether you trust me with this emotional stuff or not… just know that I want to be here for you, and will do everything I can to listen and support you.
  • I can see you’re trying hard with <BLANK>, I’m proud of you.
  • I see how hard this is for you to talk about and open up about …
  • I notice that you…
  • I’m proud of you when you…
  • It sounds as if your worry is overwhelming right now… let’s just sit here together for a bit. Let me know if you want to talk about anything. But it’s also ok if you don’t want to right now.
  • Part of you wants to shut down… yet part of you wants to tell me about it. I know that can feel very confusing…
  • I don’t see things the way you do… but I see that’s how you feel. Can you tell me more about how you came up with those thoughts?
  • I would like to understand what is going on for you – is there something I can do more of/less of, for you to open up to me?
  • It seems like you are going through a lot. I know you don’t always open up, but I would like you to try to, ok?
  • I am going to try a few things differently this next little while because I see you are struggling. What I have tried in the past has not worked, so I may annoy you for a while as I try to understand you and do some things differently, ok?
  • I can see you are mad, and that’s ok. We do need to talk about <BLANK> however. So pick a time either today or tomorrow where we can talk. This is not an option, as I am worried. But I will leave the time up to you, so you can gather your thoughts and think about how you want to tell me what’s going on.

Noticing Body Language

‘Noticing’ is a good first step – it helps teens feel they are ‘seen’

  • You are very fidgety today, are you worried about something?
  • You seem quieter today than usual, would you like to talk something through?
  • It seems like there is something on your mind, I noticed you were distracted during your favourite show, is there something you would like to talk about?

When They Really Won’t Open Up

  • I know you are not one to share your feelings with me, and I’m not so great about sharing mine with you! But let’s try together, ok? I think we can both get better at this if we work on it together.
  • I look forward to when you can begin to open up to me, but if I know it must feel hard right now…
  • You are really shutting down and it scares me. I know it likely scares you too. But since you won’t talk to me I would like you to talk to someone. So let’s look online for some psychologists, and find one that looks like a fit for you (psychologytoday.com – Find a Therapist)


  • Your teen will likely think you’re a big weirdo if you try any of the above. Especially if you have never said anything like this before. THAT IS OKAY. Name this with them, laugh at yourself, have some fun with it!!
  • Your teen needs to see you are trying to do something ‘exceptionally different in order for them do to something different too. We want them to open up, express, and get comfort by you… If you feel odd, so be it! It’s all about what is best for your child’s emotional well-being, not for your personal comfort level.
  • Make sure you are available to them, both physically and emotionally. This may mean putting your phone down sometimes, showing them you are actually present and ready to talk if/when they need.
  • If your teen experiences you as anxious, stressed, over-booked or overwhelmed, they may not want to burden you with their ‘stuff’. But this is your most important job, so try hard not to have them experience you as having ‘too-much-on-your-plate’. This will really shut them down, and have them turn towards their friends instead of you.
  • If you feel you really can’t authentically be available to them emotionally, that is very ok and even brave to admit. But do seek support and comfort from a friend, partner or therapist in order to become healthier for yourself and for your children.

Persevere with all of the above, and give your teen time. Don’t give up on them! It can take months and months before your teen begins to open up to you, allowing themselves to be vulnerable and learning to take emotional risks. Please have patience!!!

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About the Author

Danelle Spence

Danelle Spence is a Registered Psychologist with a passion for helping teens effectively manage emotional distress and helping their parents’ understand the complex and developing teenage brain.

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