If you feel anxious and frustrated dealing with your teenager, I’d like to share with you some solid advice to make connecting and communication a whole lot easier.
- Is it the right time to talk?
Choose a time and a place that is most likely to bring about a good result. Wait until you are both less tired, or ratty, and communication will flow more easily. Feed your teenager before any discussion and you will stabilize blood sugar levels, which will help with concentration.
- Schedule time
Give your teen advance notice that you’d like to discuss something with them. Tell them what it’s about and how long it will probably take. This will help them to prepare mentally and not feel caught off guard.
- Walk and Talk
Whilst some teenage girls open up with a chat over juice or coffee, the majority (and certainly boys) responds better when on the move. Keeping active will lessen eye contact, which can come across as aggressive and cause them to withdraw. Whether you go for a walk or play catch with a ball, your teen will likely feel more comfortable to talk.
- Don’t make it about you
Most times teenage behaviour and attitude isn’t personal, so try to keep your defenses low, and keep your emotions under control. This will help you to stay calm and not shout or lash out with unkind words or criticism.
- Listen more than you talk
Don’t make it a lecture. The number one frustration I hear every day in my consultancy for help with teens is that they are not given enough opportunity to be heard. Allow your teen to feel listened to. Be respectful of their thoughts and ideas, even if you disagree.
- Remember that your teen is already a young adult
When communicating with your teen, try to apply the principle of transactional analysis and aim to talk to your teen on an adult-adult level. Meet them on respectful ‘level ground’ and you will be less likely to be on the receiving end of a defensive attitude, because they don’t like being spoken to as a ‘child’ younger than their years.
- Put yourself in their shoes
Whilst as an adult you may feel their worries or upsets are trivial and insignificant in the grand scale of things, it is vital that you try to understand things from their perspective. Whatever is troubling them no matter how trivial it might seem to you, to ‘them’ in their world it ‘is’ a big deal. Help them to gain a sense of perspective, but aim to empathize with how they feel.
- Deal with one thing at a time
Discussions often spiral into arguments when topics digress. Don’t overwhelm yourself or your teen by blurting out everything you are cross about in one go. Instead, get clear for yourself with a short list of key points you want to raise. Raise one concern at a time. Be specific and bring actual physical examples whenever you can (i.e. their floordrobe!). Get feedback on their understanding, and only move on to your next point when you have agreement or clarity on the first.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff
Ask yourself if the issue is really worth making a fuss over. Be selective in sharing your frustrations and let the small stuff go. That way, you will seem less of a nag and you will get a far better response when a bigger concern requires addressing.
- Set clear boundaries
Your teenager needs to know when they cross the line. Be clear and consistent about what you expect from them in how they behave and communicate and this will help them to feel secure.
- Be flexible
Aim to take your teenager’s point of view into account and consider their feelings always. Lead by example and teach your teen the value in learning how to negotiate respectfully rather than being single minded and closed in their thinking. Give them the opportunity to express how they see things.
- Encourage independence
Check in with yourself often to make sure the rules you enforce are relevant for the age of your teen. Their safety is of course your number one priority. However there is often conflict because a teenager feels frustrated that their independence is restricted for their age.
- Admit when you are wrong
Showing yourself to your teen as a fallible human being takes so much pressure off of them. It gives them permission to get it wrong sometimes too. Say sorry quickly when you have got it wrong or have misunderstood.
- Follow up
Agree a time to follow up on what you have raised and any relevant action your teenager needs to take and by when. Then drop it… Begin a different, lighter topic of conversation, so that you can both move on in a friendly way.
So many teenagers I ask do not know how much their parents love and appreciate them. Find the time every day to connect with your teen and tell them that you love them. Show them with thoughtful gestures and by being genuinely interested in what they have to say. Give them honest and specific praise. Show them respect on a daily basis.
Learn to connect better with your teenage son or daughter and it will mean you will be the one they turn to when they need help, before things get out of hand.
My experience is first hand, both as a mum and as a therapist. I work with teens and parents every day. One2one support is available for your troubled teen, along with parent support sessions for you. To find out more about how I can help, click here.
If you need me, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
With love and light
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Lisa Skeffington, Anxiety Expert – Anxiety Help Bournemouth & Ringwood