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How to Communicate with Boys - Parenting Tips

Updated on August 5, 2012

"When my boy doesn't talk to me, I feel an immediate personal rejection. "

There are various reasons why a boy clams up, many having nothing to do with the parent. As the boy grows and changes, he naturally withdraws from the child-like naïve openness of five-year-old to a bit more selective way of interacting. Boy talks less as he gets older are normal.

The pressure summons quickly since parents have a relentless need to converse with him. Parents feel the need to ask good questions and while trying so hard, the verbal communications become bizarre and confusing. Most conversations are not what they appear to be. Boy may not say what he means. Literal interpretations of spoken words may actually lead you misunderstanding.


Boys are not aware of how badly we seek to know them. As adults, we rely heavily on verbal communication with others. Talking is what we are good at. It is practical and we get the message across. We are so dependent on verbal communication that when it comes to communicating with boys, we become immediately frustrated. We almost reactively begin to wonder what they are hiding. Adults are skilful at figuring out what other people are hiding. We are experienced mind readers. So we employ the same tricks and methods to tease out that information we suspect our boys are hiding from us.

Boys know how to thwart every effort to get inside them. Though we know that boys should open up to grow further, getting them to do so is another matter. Boys lack of our facility with the language. They have yet acquired our ability to read and interpret what’s hidden in them. The language we manage with such refinement, they stumble and bumble with. Therefore, speaking with an adult is intimidating to a boy.

The difficulties arising from this disparity can really tense up the parent-child relationship, especially since most other kids don’t look like they have any trouble expressing themselves. Don’t be misled; boys are very easily confused in conversations. There is more to what we see and hear.

For now, it maybe the best time to live with the truth that the best conversation possible is to have the least conversation.

Father and Son Talk

Demand Characteristics

The main reason driving boys to clam up is what psychologists called “Demand characteristics”. Demand characteristics are the unspoken cue, expectation and pressures which boys sense in social situations that provide them with hint on how they are expected to behave. We often encounter such cues, and our brains are tuned to find them, accurately interpret them and act in response. For example, during a visit to a temple, a boy saw many shoes lying at the main entrance door, a fairly obvious clue about the requirement to take off the shoes before entering the temple, a contradiction to wearing shoes into a church. The boys, visiting the temple for the first time, have no obvious clue about what to do, so they stood quietly by. Had nobody told them what to do, they would have stood there and observed until they figured out what was appropriate, then acted accordingly.

Boys are somehow more alert and sensitive to these cues. Boys pay attention to these cues and responding to expectations. This is important to boys since they want to please adults. If a boy feels for any reason that he cannot understand what is expected of him in a situation, he will become quiet and observe further.

Not realizing this, a well-meaning parent will try everything imaginable to speak properly to the son to get more information. Be kind, fun, fatherly and so on, but nothing seemed to work. As more questions are asked at an increasing pace, the desperation for a response increase and the atmosphere of the conversation become more intense. None of these actions from the parents gets past the ever-sharpening instincts of the boy. The boy watches the frustrating parents who turn into anger. He has not the slightest clue on how to handle the deteriorating situation, so he does what is natural: nothing. He squirms, fidgets and immediately clams up the instant his is approached further. He saw his father’s anger building up (a mistaken demand characteristic), and he becomes scared. He thought his father is going to blow while his father was simply concerned. The boy shuts down out of terror and draws the wrong conclusion.

If this situation continues, the parent may become frustrated, embittered, and perhaps giving up trying to understand the son further. The parent felt rejected by the son’s response. After a few intense interactions, the parent-child relationship can turn sour. Nothing moves forward, communication halts and a bad habit is formed.



Solution #1 : Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

What we expect, all too often, is exactly what we get.

Understanding positive attitudes and the self-fulfilling prophecy are particularly helpful in parent-child relationship.

Undoubtedly, expectation creates pressures in the parents’ life and in the lives of those around them. Do you know you may subconsciously send the inappropriate signal about what you expect to your boys? In return, the boy responds with hesitation and defensiveness, and clams up.

If you expect trouble from your boy, you will get it. If you expect him to be confused, he will. If you expect him to be angry, you will find an angry boy too.

If you expect a boy very capable of laughter, he will find him laughing. If you expect a boy who can find ways to make his life better, you will get that too.

Therefore, alter your expectations regarding talkativeness and notice what happens. Adjust the strength of your expectation by increasing and decreasing some element of expectation and notice the change.

Solution #2 : Change the atmosphere

The current atmosphere may create emotional pressures and stagnation on your boys. Changing the atmosphere or surrounding may bring your boys to a different mood and open him up. Go for a walk or cycling. Take a drive to some place new. Watch a new movie. Visit a new restaurant. Wear something nice and go to an evening concert. Do anything to get out of routine life.

Solution #3 : Talk Specifically about Concrete or Odd Topics

For boys, it is easier to talk about concrete topic like football than it is to talk about something abstract like happiness. You can connect with burger easier than you can connect with self-control. Most boys don’t get the abstract and misty stuff. To have good conversation, speak in concrete terms about concrete topics.

It is a good habit to read one new and interesting topic each day, from newspaper, knowledge books or encyclopaedia. Read about weird stories, unusual job experiences, or other people’s strange encounters. These oddities can spark new conversation with boys.

Solution #4 : Watch Out For Unguarded Moments

Be alert to moments when your son is suddenly in talkative mood. If you observe, these openness to talk comes in cycle or certain times of the day such as bedtime, meal times, drive times and after-school times. Boys tend to open up when they are tired, relaxed, excited or happy about something unusual. When the moment comes, give him the attention and sit down to talk with him.

Solution #5 : Give Him Time and Space to Think

Boys or generally everyone have unique cycles, speeds and metabolisms that control various aspects of their lives. Thinking has its own cycles; it is fast for some and very slow for others. Boys seem to be averagely slower in responding to adult’s questions than most girls and other adults. Therefore, be patient with him, give him time to response.

This has been hard for me as I am a fast person while my son is slow. This book, “Different Children Different Needs” by Charles F. Boyd has helped me to see different child’s temperaments from different perspective. It has also helped me to evaluate my own temperament and how will that affects my relationship with my son who has similar or another trait of temperaments.


The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are owned by Ingenira who hereby asserts her copyright on the material. Permission must be granted by the author in writing prior to copy or republish this article in print or online. However, please feel free to copy the first paragraph with a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Ingenira 2011


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