“I’m a 36-year-old mother to a 13-year-old girl. I am worried about my daughter as she barely talks to anyone. At home she remains cloistered in her room, and her teacher says she is quiet at school too. I initially thought this was just a brooding teenage phase. But it has been going on for almost four months now. I took her to a counselor, to no avail. She has become extremely reticent and doesn’t trust anyone with her thoughts and feelings. I’ve tried talking to her, but it’s like hitting a brick wall. She won’t let anyone in. I’m afraid she is going through something terrible on the inside. How can I help her?” —A concerned mother
Answer by Krishangi, Psychologist at Happy Minds
As a 13-year-old girl, she must be going through a lot. You have to be able to create a space where she feels comfortable opening up and talking to you. Start by letting her know what specific depressive symptoms you have noticed and why they worry you, then ask if she is willing to share how she feels. Listen to her and don’t criticize, judge, or compare her situation with others. If she doesn’t open up, simply let her know that you are there for her and willing to support her.
Don’t give up the first time she shuts you down. You have to be patient and persistent. Teenagers who are the same age as your daughter often have difficulty expressing and understanding their feelings. As a mother, you must constantly reassure her by being there for her. At the same time, you should make sure you are not overwhelming her.
When she tries to open up or share even the smallest thing, take that as a win. Make sure you don’t disregard her feelings or concerns as irrational or illogical. Acknowledge her emotions and feelings to make her feel understood and supported.
If she still doesn’t talk to you, reach out to someone (her cousins, friends, teachers, or anyone she seems to trust) whom she does talk or listen to. The important thing is that she talks to someone about her feelings. Also, reach out to her school and find out about her friend circle—if they are using certain comments or phrases that could be contributing to her behavior.
The other thing you could do is spend at least 30 minutes with your daughter, doing things that she likes. You could even help with her daily homework.
Try to get her involved in extracurricular activities she might be interested in, giving her a sense of purpose. Help her minimize screen time, and involve her in more face-to-face interactions. You could also encourage her to invite her friends over.
Sometimes, as a parent, all you can do is let your children know that you are there to listen and offer them support. Your daughter needs to know that she is valued, accepted, cared for and loved.