We’ve likely all heard how important it is to have a strong relationship and open communication with our kids. Studies show that teenagers who are close to their parents are less likely to engage in risky behavior, have higher grades, and typically fare better than those who feel emotionally distant from their families. But exactly how do we get our kids to want to be open up to us? When it comes to adolescents, sometimes it feels like we’re talking to a wall! Here are four tips for talking to teens:
Be A Good Listener
Teens can sense when you’re only talking to them because you intend to give them a lecture, but if you want your child to trust you and open up, sometimes you need to resist the temptation to say anything and simply listen. Particularly when it comes to difficult subjects, being able to just hear out your teen sends the message that you care about what they have to say (not just about what you have to say).
Ask Follow-Up Questions
When your son or daughter is talking about something important to him/her, or when the subject is difficult or sensitive, it can be helpful to ask questions and check for understanding. You may want to use a reflective listening question such as, “So if I am hearing you correctly, you are feeling _____” or “Help me understand how you are feeling about this. I can see that it is important to you which makes this important to me too.” These types of responses provides clarification, helps make sure you and your child are on the same page, and also shows that you care and are making a strong effort to understand his/her perspective.
Your child may be your offspring, but your teen is also a different person from you that will likely have some interests and opinions that you do not. A common parenting mantra is to “Pick Your Battles,” and when it comes to things that really don’t have a significant consequence, don’t fight about it! Just accept that he/she may not think like you in every little thing… and that’s okay! It’s important to validate this to your teen as well- as this is a life lesson that they need to learn! It’s okay to have your own opinions and beliefs, that is what is wonderful about you!
Pause Your Own Emotions
When your child tells you something you don’t want to hear, it’s all too easy to feel like you are losing control of your emotions, your temper, and to react with anger. This will work great if you just want to argue, but if you want your teen to trust you and feel comfortable expressing things to you, you need to be able to manage your own feelings. This is hard as a parent, especially when it comes to hot button topics! Think back to picking your battles, and if this topic falls under your top three – take deep breath, don’t react, but communicate how you feel and then take the time to listen to your teen. This doesn’t mean that you won’t need to give a consequences for misbehavior on his/her part, but it does mean that you will be able to think clearly and not damage your relationship with your child.