Parenting with your mouth closed
It’s so tempting to jump in and fix, to tell, to direct and correct; but at the end of the day those actions take away the chance for your teen to solve a problem for themselves. We all want our teenagers to be able to go out into the world with their problem solving toolkits fully stocked and ready for use. The catch is; the more we step in for our teen, the smaller their tool kit will be.
If your teenager is lacking confidence, has no close friends, and they don’t know how to make them, plus they have a lot of anxiety; I’m sure we can agree that your teenager has a potential problem. Unfortunately they are no longer six and you won’t be able to “Kiss it better” anymore, you simply won’t be able to solve it for them. And in no way am I saying it’s best to walk away and leave them to it. That’s stepping too far in the opposite direction. Smart parents know they can support their teens as they solve it for themselves
Even if (or when) you don’t agree, your job is simply to listen and repeat things back to them. Show them you hear them and you understand what they’re feeling. Put yourself in their shoes and tell them “I can understand why you felt like that.”
Just in case you missed it, here it is again. Listen and repeat things back. When you do say something it needs to be empathetic and validating. Along the lines of “That really stinks honey, I’d be upset too” followed by “Tell me more about that.”
If they tell you “I’m feeling really low” your response can be “It must be hard to feel low.” Then ask them how they think they’ll solve the problem and if there’s anything you can do to help them. Make sure you reinforce that you love them and that you are there for them.
Remember that their problems are not your problems to solve, they are your child’s. Keep in your own lane and put your energy and effort into being the support team.
How tempting is it to jump in and tell them what to do, right? You can dish out 10 different ways to solve a problem but where are those suggestions coming from? From your own pile of hurt and indignation that someone else has said that/done that to your kid. That’s a trigger, and it’s yours. And it means your child now has two problems to solve: the original one that doesn’t yet seem to have been addressed and your problem that has reared its head from a pile of compost in your past.
And we wonder why our kids don’t confide in us!
Yes, it can be faster to problem solve for your child, to boss, direct and hover. But that doesn’t teach them anything except how to be compliant. You are effectively teaching them what to think, not how to think. As an adult this isn’t always our best choice and can result in other people doing the thinking for us. Is that what you want for your teenager?
Spend the time to develop their creativity while you trust them to be smart enough to figure out their own paths. Teenagers want to learn and know that honesty, vulnerability and imperfection are great ways to move yourself through a problem. And the way that big job is going to happen is simply by closing our mouths as we open our ears. Listening, validating, mirroring their thoughts and reflecting them back to them. Foster that trust and grow that relationship so your teenagers are able to do their important thinking with you, as well as with their peers.
To get that warm and close relationship then stop telling and start listening. Your teenager is worth it, and so are you.
Your main responsibility as a parent isn’t to boss your kids around more, micromanage them more or love them more, it’s actually to love yourself more. Brenée Brown said “Who we are and how we carry ourselves are stronger predictors of how our children will turn out than what we know about parenting.”
Reach out for support if this resonates with you. I offer coaching to support parents of teenagers as you navigate this big and important job. The things you say and do everyday are the things that count.