Build trust to help your daughter communicate

  • Age: 10-14 yrs
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Build trust to help your daughter communicate

It can be hard for a teenage girl to talk to her mom – or anyone – about a sensitive issue. But a mother-daughter private code can help her talk when she’s feeling awkward or unhappy, so why not give it a try using our action checklist?

Think of a time when you kept a secret from your parents. What was the secret about? Why didn’t you tell them? Chances are you were probably scared that they would disapprove in some way. But how would you feel if your daughter is now keeping similar secrets from you? Disappointed? Angry? Worried?

Most parents feel a mixture of emotions when they discover their children aren’t telling them the whole truth. So how can we encourage more openness to start with?

Listen to your daughter without judgement

“Parents don’t realize that the white lie or avoidance of the truth is more about your child wanting to stay connected to you,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Tara Cousineau. “You are still the most important person in many ways. The trick is to create an environment where you are not judgmental and can hold your child’s perspective in view.

“Often this is simply by being open and honest in your own life – with your spouse and friends. Your daughter is a keen observer, and she’ll be more apt to feel confident to raise tricky subjects with you when she sees you act with integrity. She has to know that you’ll listen and help her without judging or jumping to conclusions.”

How does using a code word help with building trust?

Often girls may find themselves in situations that they didn’t choose to be in, or may have turned uncomfortable – particularly in social situations. They don’t intend to lie about it. They are caught between protecting their friends and their social status, and protecting you from knowing about it. Acknowledge that these situations can arise and that you can help your daughter without her compromising her friendships.

When does using a private code help?

Dr. Cousineau suggests creating a simple code word together that your daughter can use to alert you to a difficult situation or when there is a need to talk about a sensitive issue. Here are some common situations when code words come in handy:

• Doing poorly at school

• Attending a party where there are drugs or alcohol

• Being touched inappropriately

• Engaging in problematic eating habits

• Being teased or harassed

• Having feelings hurt by a family member or friend.

Using the code word in difficult situations

The code should be private and taken seriously. If you both come up with a word or phrase and commit to it early on, it could prevent – and allow you to overcome – misunderstandings so that you can help her when she needs it most. She may want to use it when she’s in a difficult situation away from you, perhaps wanting you to come and help her. Reassure her you are always available and she can call or text you and use your agreed code word whenever necessary in these instances.

“It might be difficult and you might need to put your own panic aside. But keep in mind, if you aren’t calm and loving it may be hard for her to approach you again,” explains Dr. Cousineau, who says that you can be firm later on.

Putting yourself in your daughter’s shoes

“The transition from childhood to adolescence can be challenging but that’s not a given,” says Dr. Cousineau. “First you need to be fully present and connected. Second, put yourself in her shoes and listen to what your daughter has to say. Make sure you let her know that you are glad she came to you.”

In his book Raising Girls , psychologist Steve Biddulph suggest aunts, older sisters or female adult friends can play significant roles in girls’ lives by being other trusted people they can talk to. Having other female confidantes also lessens the intensity in the mother-daughter relationship. See if your daughter would like to give an aunt or friend of yours the code word too.

Figuring out your own mother-to-daughter code will build trust and encourage your daughter to reach out to you when dealing with the challenges of growing up. Open communication in this way will help develop her confidence at overcoming issues and let her get on with reaching her full potential.

So use our helpful action checklist to take Dr. Cousineau’s advice on creating a codeword and take the first steps in building trust with your daughter.

Action checklist:
Choosing and using a code word with your daughter

For the code to work, there are a few guidelines you should both agree to first:

• Put safety first

• Listen, don’t blame

• Always communicate in a positive way

• Come up with solutions and consequences together

• Understand that making mistakes is human and part of growing up

• Identify emergency contacts – people and numbers that can help.

Then follow these steps to make the codeword a powerful way for you and your daughter to build your communication and trust.

  • Choosing a simple code word: Pick something that you can use easily, such as “Mom , can you fix my bracelet?” then your daughter can use it to signal she needs your attention in some way. For that matter, you can use the code word, too, when you observe something about her behavior that you might want to raise.
  • Agree some rules: Write out the code word rules together and agree to stick to them. Keep them in a handy place to refer to later.
  • Two codes are better than one: Consider creating two code words, one that signals it is urgent to talk and one that tells you that something’s up but your daughter is OK and doesn’t want to talk right now.
  • Find a second confidante: It may help to have another adult that your daughter can use her code word with, in case you’re not around or she really doesn’t feel able to open up to you.
  • Take the code seriously: When your daughter uses the code, praise her for asking for help. Take her somewhere private and listen to her.

What next: Action steps to help

  • Start a conversation with your daughter about the code word and the situations she might use it in.
  • How does it make her feel knowing she has the code word to fall back on if things get tricky and she needs to talk to you in private?
  • Check in with her after she’s used it a few times. How does she feel about it now? Is she happy with the way that you responded?
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