Conversations with teenagers: going deeper
Before you get to have a deep, treasured relationship with your teenagers you need close everyday stuff first. The deep stuff just won’t work if the superficial is just that, surface level only. Know that all kids love their parents and they only want to do what’s right for them. Remember that when your adolescent is trying to separate from you. Deep down it’s your approval they crave and need in order to be able to function at their best. Don’t keep it from them, hidden under layers of busyness, directives and criticism. Take a good hard long look at the way you are parenting and if you need to start changing it, or if your partner needs to start changing it then DO SOMETHING. You only get to moan about your teenager if you are a valid, supportive presence in their lives.
Children tend to listen more or less as much as they feel listened to
It’s worth pointing out that children will only listen as well as they feel listened to. If you feel that your kids don’t listen to you then may I gently suggest that perhaps you are also a part of the problem here … And the same applies when they sometimes don’t listen, maybe they only feel sometimes listened to. Wherever you are on your parenting journey right now know you are exactly where you need to be. There’s always stuff to learn so please don’t beat yourself up if you ever feel inadequate to the task. Parenting is a big task and we are never ever going to always get it right.
Stop fixing - this is a huge one for me. I so often want to jump in with a solution to a problem that seems enormous to them and pretty insignificant to me. But am I teaching them to figure it out for themselves by doing this? No way. Instead I’m shutting down a chance to hear them, to guide them and to teach them how to solve problems. As a busy parent this is huge because your time is so precious. And the problem seems so trivial. But back off with the fixit solutions. They’re what you might have done or think they should do. That word should. Takes away all the choice in the situation. Instead guide them to choose. Making choices is the best way of learning how to deal with a situation. Get them to brainstorm their ideas, throw in a couple of your own as suggestions but accept all thoughts. And only add yours if you think they’re viable. When the discussion comes up about where to go next you get to talk through solutions but again, let them choose the one they think will work best.
Other speed bumps that just slow down the listening process:
Criticising: is a harsh way to shut down a conversation. This also applies to criticising others, how can your teenager be sure you’re not going to criticise them as well?
Diagnosing: cuts off a lot of possibilities. No one has all the answers.
Advising: stops the curiosity of problem solving and being open to their input.
Moralising - you’re justifying and judging based on your own values.
Threatening: my way or the highway just won’t cut it anymore.
Reassuring: how can you possibly know everything will be ok, especially if you’re not actually following up with some form of action?
Encouraging: is only useful when your teenager has ownership of the problem solving process.
The importance of accurate labelling of emotions
Seriously, how can you take action if you’re not aware of what you are feeling?
All of our human emotions can be traced back to four basic emotions: mad, sad, glad and scared. Every emotion comes from one of those four. At the very least your child needs to be able to identify, feel and name these four emotions when they are preschoolers. They need to be in touch with their bodies. Why is this so important? The emotion you are feeling will colour the lense you are viewing the world through. Let me give you an example:
If you wake up in the morning and you are feeling mad, chances are you will get out of bed with a stomp, snarl or snap at people in the house and slam things around.
If you are feeling sad, you will probably be more inclined to shuffle out of bed, walk around with a downcast glance and not even bother to greet the people in the house.
If you wake up feeling glad you will probably bounce out of bed, greet other people in the house with a hug and a smile and go through your morning routine with a smile, a song or a joke.
If you wake up feeling scared you are more likely to sidle out of bed, tip toe around the house and communicate in a quiet voice or with whispers.
Anything appeal to you there. I know which way I’d prefer to wake up. And I know which way I’d prefer my teens to wake up. One of those basic feelings is going to alter the way you see the world and the way you show up in the world.
When you are aware of how you are feeling you can understand why you are speaking and doing and showing up as you do. And you can also understand why your teenager is speaking and behaving as they do.
Then you can take appropriate action to address problems, behaviours and generate solutions.
FYI - we’re rarely all 100% of each emotion at any time, except in extreme circumstances. Chances are you and your teenagers will be a mix of different emotions at any one time. I’m talking about the dominant emotion as the driver. And also we know that emotions can change quickly due to a myriad of different factors. Teach your teens: Don’t think that if you wake up mad you have to stay like that for the day. Again, it’s about choice.
One of your many roles as a parent is to teach your teenager how to recognise and respond to the emotions they are feeling inside themselves. Your teenager is going out into the world and it will be the way they have linked back to your teachings that will get them through the day.
What you do and say and how you behave as a parent matters. So much. Your response matters. Stop blaming peers, schools, your ex partner and just start working on you. Blaming will not help. Ever.
Be friendly. Be interested. Make time and space. Show your child you care about them by taking time to be interested in the things that interest them, take time to develop connections with them.
Your body language shows involvement and attention. Take a second to stop, and mirror them. And look them in the eyes.
Make sure you are in a good space, you have the time and attention to be focused on them.
It is their time to talk. Silence is an excellent prompt. Let them talk. Your job is to listen to what they are telling you. Really listen. You are not expected to reply, at all necessarily and definitely not immediately. You should be listening to hear and to understand, not listening to answer. It’s important to reflect back what you’re hearing them say. For example, you might say “So this happened … and then you felt ……. and now ……..” They will correct you if you get it wrong, which is great because as they explain it to you they are also explaining it to themselves. Often something has happened that needs to be reflected on, how many times have you come away from an encounter and thought “I could have …” or “I missed the bit about …” to yourself. You really don’t need to fix anything, or solve anything. That’s your teenager’s job. Your job is to let them talk out all the swirls in their heads.
"To actively listen means to listen with genuine interest, with patience and presence, to listen with our ears and our heart." ~ Genevieve
Keep taking those small steps everyday to move you through. If you need coaching or support please reach out. Mental health is everyone’s responsibility.