Talking to a Child Who Does Not Want to Talk to You

Several years ago I was in a quaint, small-town bookstore. As I chatted with the sixties-something bookstore owner she noticed my three daughters. “Are those girls yours?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said proudly.

“Hmmm . . . ” she said, stroking her chin. “Come with me.” She beckoned me to an obscure corner of her store, and, glancing furtively at my girls, she leaned in close to my ear.  “Let me give you some advice,” she said in a low voice. “Someday, when your girls get older they will want nothing to do with you. They will not even want to talk to you.”

“No,” I reassured her, “Not my gir–”

“Listen closely,” she interrupted, “and I will tell you what to do when that happens.”

Then she whispered to me her secret. It was truly brilliant. I tucked her advice away in my mind so that I would be able to use it someday “when my daughters want nothing to do with me” (which of course will never happen). I will share her secret with you.

But first I am going to tell you another story.

I was that child once.

I was that child that didn’t want to have anything to do with her parents. My rebellion hit when I was in my second year of college; the year I fell in love with Trouble.

My parents were frightened for me. My brothers were disappointed in me. My sisters prayed for me. Everyone did all they could to persuade me and admonish me and warn me that I was dating Bagley Family Enemy #1, but I wouldn’t listen. Why? Because when you are 19, very few things matter more than a 6’4″ green-eyed boy who also happens to be an excellent kisser.

Around the time all of this was happening I went to Wal-Mart with my dad. Just before we checked out he grabbed a stuffed bear from the shelf.

“Why are you buying that?” I asked him.

My dad shrugged mysteriously. “Just in the mood.”

In the mood to buy stuffed animals? I thought. Dad, you are weird.  I eyed him suspiciously as he paid for his purchases and we left the store, the bear tucked under his arm.

“So . . . are you going to name him?” I asked as we walked to his truck, wondering what my mom was going to think that night when my dad cuddled up with his bear.

“Who?” he said.

“The bear,” I said. “What are you going to name him?”

“Oh, yes.” Thoughtful pause. “Him.”


“Yes. His name is Him.”

On that bewildering note my dad put the bear down in the backseat, drove me to my apartment and dropped me off.

A few weeks went by. Awesome weeks. Trouble and I went on long drives, we ate out a lot, we laughed a lot, we kissed . . . a lot.  All the while I knew I was creating quite a panic on the home front.  And as I desired to be with Trouble more and more, I visited home less and less. After all, why would I want to go home only to get reprimanded? Trouble made me happy. Trouble was all that mattered.  Me + Trouble = True Love.

Then, early one morning, I opened the apartment door to leave for my campus job. There on the doorstep sat a vaguely familiar stuffed animal.

It was Him.

Under his paw there was an envelope with my name on it.

I brought the bear inside the apartment, sat down and opened the letter. “Dear Chelsea,” it read. “This is a letter to Him. Since Him cannot read, I was hoping you could read it out loud to Him.”

Okay . . . I thought. My dad truly is the King of Weirdness. But, I sighed, if he took the time to bring this bear to my apartment in the middle of the night I decided to at lease humor him. I read the note (out loud, as directed) to the bear. It wasn’t anything ground breaking. Just a letter about life and working through tough decisions.

I wasn’t stupid. I knew what he was trying to do. A few days later there was another letter on the doorstep addressed to Him, presumably for me to read out loud.  Then letters started coming in the mail, too. It was happening so often that my roommates were getting thrills every time a “Him letter” showed up. And even though I stopped reading them out loud (too many ears in those apartments!) I secretly began to look forward to the letters because a.) my dad was a funny man who did unpredictable things, and  b.) I wasn’t as happy with Trouble as I wished I was.  Trouble was a good kisser . . . and that was about it.

My dad wrote to Him about everything: decision making, being wise, having an eternal perspective, and even techniques on how to get to sleep.  He drew diagrams and pictures so Him (who had a small brain) could understand.

I did finally break up with Trouble. And then we got back together. Then we broke up again.  Finally Trouble went on a mission, but it wasn’t until he came home two years later that I finally pounded the last nail in the coffin of our love. Believe me, Trouble is hard to shake off.

The letters to Him weren’t what saved me from getting into serious problems with this young man. But the letters to Him kept me connected with my dad in a unique and vital way. The fact that my dad took the time to make his messages creative told me that he loved me but did not want to offend me. And because his method was so strangely endearing I didn’t have the heart to get defensive about the advice I was getting. Each letter was a gentle reminder that I was loved and I was being prayed for, and most of all, that I was being trusted to make the right choice on my own.


Now, back to the bookstore owner who had me cornered in her store.

This is what she told me:

You will need a bag of mini marshmallows, some tooth picks and a little candle. Late at night (when people are most willing to share their deepest dreams and fears) invite one of your girls to the kitchen table. (You must only do this with one child at a time.) Light the candle. Turn off the lights. Stick the little marshmallows on the toothpicks. Roast your marshmallows. Because the candle is so small you will have to sit very close to each other. Because you are doing something edible she will not leave. And because you are doing something unpredictable she will know that you care. Then let her talk, and you listen.


I’ve already done this with two of my kids, with magical results. (I am starting this method early, as a preventative measure.)

It is our job as parents to remind, correct, discipline and warn. But it is worth remembering that kids may not always listen to words, but they always listen to love.


“If a man’s heart is rankling with discord and ill feeling toward you, you can’t win him to your way of thinking with all the logic in Christendom. Scolding parents and domineering bosses and husbands, and nagging wives ought to realize that people don’t want to change their minds. They can’t be forced or driven to agree with you or me. But they may possibly be led to if we are gentle and friendly, ever so gentle and ever so friendly.”   –Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People


Filed under Parenting, Uncategorized

30 responses to “Talking to a Child Who Does Not Want to Talk to You

  1. Shan'tel

    This is a great post! I was going to add that next time you should try making mini s’mores…just add two golden grahams (the cereal) and a chocolate chip! 🙂


  2. Stacey

    Brilliant! I have four girls. The oldest is nine and is already starting to spill her guts less and less. I may have to pull out the marshmallows or buy a “him”. Thanks.


  3. Erin

    I love this. And how special that you have all those letters from your Dad.


  4. Metta Prieto

    Nice, Chelsea. Thanks for passing along the tips. Not that I will EVER have to use them or anything…


  5. I am so grateful & glad that you blog, Chelsea Dyreng. I’ve already improved my Sundays, my family home evenings and goodness knows what else I’ll learn from you. Will you adopt me? I think I’ll learn even more that way.


  6. Brenda

    Thank you Chelsea! You are right. I need to be a better parent and as a friend by just listen. That’s what my children kept telling me. 🙂


  7. Ron Hsu

    I remember “Him”!!! That brilliant talk you gave on Fathers’ Day those years ago had “Him” in it. My Bishop recommended monthly “dates” with one child at a time and those were really great, too.


  8. dan dyer

    This is fantastic. Incredible advice. I can imagine your dad doing all that.


  9. CS

    We have a challenging 6 yr old that is pushing away from us at a much too young age. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so open and candid. I think this article is just what the dr ordered to restore my hope in being able to reconnect before he reaches the crises of being a preteen or tween or teen or young adult. Thank you.


  10. Answers to prayers come in the most unexpected ways! Thank you for being mine. 🙂


  11. Right off the top, I want you to know I love you. You have a great blog. Thank you so much for sharing this. I never really had a family until I joined the Church, so I did not really know how to raise children. However, with my step-son (outside of the church) I was able to share one on one time with him and his siblings and let them know I cared. After I left their father, one of the girls called and thanked me for being a real mother she never had before, and the boy, well, lets just say he is a lot better now than he was before. He and I became very close and he would come to me when he needed help. I know that real love can heal all hearts. Thanks again for sharing. I’m going to use this with a non-active person I care about. Pray for me to help her remember why she joined the Church in the first place.
    Hugs from a distance.


  12. Jolynn Miles

    This is a beautiful post. I can tell your parents love you very much and I’m sure the feeling is mutual. Your children will be blessed with your wisdom. Thanks for sharing!!


  13. Sue

    So, in the end,…what was wrong with trouble? Especially since he went on a mission? And did Trouble go on to be wonderful with someone else?


    • Sue, that is a great question. “Trouble,” who was (and most likely still is) a very good man. As far as I know he did get married and has some cute kids, and that is all I know. I think two people can love each other very much, but deep down they know that their goals/lifestyles/habits would keep them from being ideal mates for the long term. We were such a couple. I know I was “Trouble” for a lot of guys who are now married to women who make them MUCH happier than I would have. More has to come together for a marriage than just following your heart…in fact, “just follow your heart” is probably the world’s worst advice you can give a young person. Now, following your HEAD and your heart…*that* will get you a partnership that will stand the test of time.


  14. Thank you, thank you….what a wonderful post! Loved it…. in our family we play cribbage at supper with our only son (after 4 girls) who doesn’t talk much but he loves crib and it keeps us connected and supper goes longer because we are having fun!


  15. Patty

    Hi Chelsea, I just ran across your blog on facebook. I love what I have read but time has already past by for our son. He is 19 now, who left home before his 18th birthday. His personality growing up seemed to be a sweet tender hearted young man, musically talented and well liked by many. He grew up under two sisters, his two older brothers were gone from home We tried in many ways to turn him back around and help him realize the wrong choices he was making. He saw one of his sisters go down a wrong path too. He started hanging out with a new group of friends that did totally the opposite of his church friends and how he was taught. He is very distant from us and he rarely calls. He lives in the same town. He was the last of five children. What wisdom or thoughts do you have in this matter. What can we really do if he has no interest with his parents and siblings?????
    A Hopeful Mom


    • I don’t think it is ever too late for someone to come home.People will always gravitate to the place they feel the most unconditional love. Now, stuffed bears and marshmallows will probably not work in your son’s case. But with much prayer and thought and patience I believe the Spirit can show you how to tailor your displays of love to his current situation. The only thing he really needs to know is that your arms are always open, and that no matter what he does with his life, no matter what poor decisions he makes, that he always is loved and welcome at home.


  16. I love this! I found you through LDS Living. Shared on G+. Pinned, too. With 6 girls ages 1-13 I have a feeling I will be using this.


  17. Oh, this is so tremendously beautiful and wise. My boys are nearing Jr. High. I will cherish this advice. Thank you.


  18. Annette H

    I always felt like my parents didn’t listen to me while I was growing up. My 5 year old said yesterday, “Mom, you’re not LISTENING to me!” as she was crying on her bed. It took my breath away… I have become my mother. So I sat down on her bed and listened to her. Now, if I can just keep doing that, we’ll be okay.


  19. Beautiful, moving, loving and inspiring! Thank you!


  20. wootzma

    My daughter was a competitive athlete from an early age. We spent a lot of time in the car driving to practice and to meets or games. We could talk but we couldn’t look at each other. She would tell me things I really didn’t want to hear but I tried very hard to be even keeled so she would continue tallking. I would listen and sometimes comment. My daughter is now 32 and we still can talk. I hope she treasures those moments as much as I do. I think we are closer for those times.


  21. I have a 14 year old son who doesn’t talk to me anymore. Seems like when we do talk we always end up arguing. It has made me sad. I miss the little boy who used to cuddle with me and share the blanket while we watched t.v. together. I’ll have to try to marshmallow thing on him and see how that goes.


  22. CeCe Benningfield

    I sometimes bust out my kids from school…random day, and take them to a special place to get ice cream or whatever they like. I have 5 kids so it gets crazy.


  23. c.bag

    Ahh, Trouble… Those were the days. 🙂


  24. From one c.bag to another, you are right. 🙂


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