Middle school is a challenging time for kids, and talking with your tween about what’s going on in their life is especially challenging for parents. Dr. Atilla Ceranoglu, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, explains the challenge with pets. Infants and toddlers are puppies—you can cuddle and hug them endlessly. But teenagers are like cats—they avoid you most of the time and only occasionally seek out your attention, but when you try to touch them, they run away.

Great Schools details the top three mistakes parents make when they try to talk to their middle schooler.

  1. Waiting for a Crisis:When there’s a crisis, tensions are high and your teen is less likely to open up to you. Instead, talk early and often before there’s a crisis so you have built some trust and rapport into your relationship already when a problem arises.
  2. Taking Too Direct an Approach:Even adults are not likely to respond well to “Let’s sit down and talk.” Spend time with your child doing something they enjoy and use that opportunity to let conversations happen in a more relaxed atmosphere.
  3. Letting the Opportunity Pass:While tweens and teens tend to push their parents away, that doesn’t mean they don’t want you involved in their life. Be ready to drop what you are doing when they want to talk—giving your child genuine interest when they want it helps build a relationship that will allow them to approach you when the conversations are tough.

Avoiding these mistakes won’t eliminate the grunts, “fines,” and “nothings” that your middle schooler responds to questions with, but they will help you build the foundation for the occasional meaningful conversation throughout their teen years.