Dear Dena,

Do you have any advice for a teen who does the silent treatment? She does not initiate conversation and refuses to communicate with me when spoken to. We spend days together and she will be totally nonverbal. I am SO tired and desperately want to connect... what do I do?


Dear Disconnected,

Parenting can be lonely business! Please take care of you and make sure you have other relationships that are life-giving and reciprocating. We cannot do this alone and parenting kids from hard places can result in loneliness and isolation if we are not intentional about seeking out safe friends who get it.

In my experience, pursuing a disconnected teen often ends in an escalation of mood and behaviors...I am still learning NOT to take it personally and NOT to play the game of giving attention to the negative behavior. Be kind. Be funny. Reach out but don’t expect much in return. You do the right thing because you’re the grown up and you live by example. Holding a consistent safe and inviting place out to your child doesn’t necessarily guarantee they will respond, or even appreciate your efforts! But it does leave the door open to relationship and it does model appropriate behavior.

It is always a good reminder that these behaviors are those of an attachment disordered kid. The “threat” of love and intimacy is so scary and hard for these kiddos because it has often been associated with violence or abandonment. It’s not personal. As an attachment figure you just represent so much emotionally challenging stuff that is linked to trauma.

We also have to be careful to not just write them off as “bad kids” and play into the very script they believe to be true. We need to help write a new story and refuse to accept that they are just bad, lazy, selfish, etc. When we can find compassion for the struggle it is easier to not only lower our expectations but also to truly celebrate and appreciate the times (however rare) when they are able to connect.

Parenting kids from hard places may never look like the kind of attachment we all long for or imagined when we started down this road. Accepting the reality of who our children are and what they can offer is essential if we are to establish any true connection and experience any true relationship. Real relationship has to be rooted in who they actually are, and not who we wish they were.


-Dena Johnson MA, LMHC

Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Attachment-Trauma Focused Therapist, TBRI Practitioner