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Tips for good communication

Read some suggestions that may help with avoiding or reducing communication problems and conflict with your depressed teenager.
© University of Reading

When trying to avoid or reduce communication problems and conflict, we suggest you keep the following points in mind:

  • Spend more time talking to your teen about positive, humorous or neutral things at appropriate times (to model and encourage better and more frequent communication in general – you may not get the response you want but giving a consistent and clear message that you want to communicate regularly can be very helpful).
  • If you know certain topics often lead to arguments (for example, helping more around the house, using the computer, getting to school on time) ask yourself whether it’s absolutely necessary to bring these things up now.
  • Think about the timing of your requests. If you know that your teenager is in a bad mood or has had a bad day at school, delay the request until they seem to be more relaxed.
  • When making requests, try to always keep your teenager’s depressed way of thinking in mind – how might he or she hear this, how might depression twist what you’re trying to say?
Examples
Give your teenager choices when asking them to do something: ‘Would you like to go for a walk with me and the dog or would you prefer to take the dog out on your own?’
Give very short requests with a brief rationale: ‘Please could you empty the dishwasher, I need to do the hoovering and I could really use your help in the next half hour.’
Give the message that you’re available to talk any time they need but don’t pressure them into it: ‘You look like you had a tough day at school, I’m downstairs if you want to talk or we could go for a coffee and cake tomorrow afternoon?’
If you’ve noticed something that concerns you, tell your teenager in a way that’ll help them to hear you in a less negative way: ‘I like it when you spend time with friends, it brings out your fun side. You’ve not seen your friends for a while, let’s invite them over this weekend.’
  • Take some time and think beforehand about what you want to communicate and what you need to say in order for this to be heard in the way you want it to.
  • Give clear instructions with a clear rationale to avoid misunderstandings (for example, ‘I’d really like to clean the house a bit this weekend and I need some help. Since you know where most of your things go in your room, and you cleaned it well last time, could you give that a tidy and this will leave less for me to do? I can do the hoovering bit if you want’).
  • If you feel yourself becoming irritated, frustrated or angry, take a moment out of the situation. In this quiet moment ask yourself whether your child is responding in ways that fit with a depressed way of thinking. Decide on the best course of action depending on your evaluation (for example, change communication style, delay it for a while, give a rationale).
  • Give choices in order to hand over more responsibility for resolving conflict and improving communication (for example, ‘we need to talk about this difficulty and see if we can solve it, would you rather talk about it this evening or on the weekend when we’ve more time?’).
  • Draw up schedules or contracts in order to establish ground rules or to ensure everyone keeps to previously agreed points (this can be something to refer back to in times of disagreements). Stick this on the fridge (for example: ‘Mum and dad have agreed not to remind me about homework for a week. I’ve agreed to come down for dinner every day this week’).
  • If you’re a teacher or a professional supporting a young person with depression, think about any contracts or written plans that may help with communication and clarity (for example, drawing up a school attendance plan, student support plan).
  • Acknowledge your efforts and give yourself a treat for trying some of these suggestions out.

If you find this list useful, you can download a copy which you can find at the bottom of this Step.

© University of Reading
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Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People

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