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Living with a teenager can be a trying time for everyone involved. As parents, we tend to focus on the behavior rather than trying to see what is driving that behavior. We see the disrespect, the moodiness, the negative attitude, and we want it gone.
But rather than attempting to fix the reason it is there in the first place, many of us rely on disciplinary actions like punishments, yelling, or other negative reinforcement to get rid of the problem temporarily.
Instead, learning how to communicate with your teen can help eliminate the problem behaviors completely by addressing the root concern. However, communication with a teen can be likened to having to learn a whole new language, or even hostage negotiation communication skills – fragile, always changing, and sometimes with volatile outcomes.
Don’t give up though, we have some tips to help you learn this new – and valuable – skill.
1. Listen to hear, not to reply. Show that you are interested in hearing about their lives, but if they feel like they are going to be harassed about what they tell you, they will quickly learn that it’s better to say nothing. You will often hear the most when you ask the least and simply show consistently that you are there.
2. Empathize with them. A normal response from a parent is to try to fix their child’s problems or negate their feelings so that they can move away from the pain. Saying things like, “You’ll feel better about this tomorrow,” or “There are plenty of other fish in the sea” can push your child away. It can make them feel like you just don’t understand the importance of what they are going through.
Instead, let them tell you what they feel comfortable with, and express how you understand that what they are going through must be difficult for them. Help them learn coping strategies to get through their pain. Teaching them to shove it under the carpet and pretend it isn’t there sets them up for problems facing their issues throughout life.
3. Don’t react, respond. There is a difference between reacting and responding. Reactions are done involuntarily, like a knee-jerk. Responses are thought out. Your first reaction to finding out your teen has done something against your rules might be to lash out verbally. This is going to cause a defensive reaction in your child, where he or she may respond in kind, or simply retreat into their head. Either way, you’ve lost the opportunity to turn the episode into a learning experience that your child won’t repeat.
4. Spend time together. You used to do it all the time, but it’s easy to grow apart as your child becomes more independent and develops their own interests and abilities. But the most important thing you can give your teen is your time, even if it is doing things they want to do and you are not interested in, finding good teen gifts to share with them or using their favorite items. This is a good time for you to develop more of skill number one and simply listen as you play together or watch television. Quite often, this is where you’ll hear the most because they are comfortable and secure with you again.
5. Avoid judgment. You likely messed up frequently as a teenager and you turned out just fine, with a few quirks. Your child will, too. Instead of judging them for their imperfections, be supportive and show them you love them unconditionally. This will naturally make them want to please you rather than rebel against you. This isn’t saying that you support their mistakes when they are detrimental, but that you don’t judge your child for the choice they made. Instead, help them see where they could have made a better choice so they know how to in the future.
There’s No Handbook for Children
You’ve heard that saying, but nowadays there are many handbooks. The trick is that none of them work for every child, so you have to figure out what works for yours. Learning how to display empathy teaches you and your child communication skills, so even though smooth sailing is likely not in your future for a while, at least you can control some of the waves along the way.