After raising 4 children and working with countless others of all ages. I can honestly say the hardest thing, is not talking. Which is a bummer because ‘not talking’ is actually the most effective thing you can do. Refraining from giving advice, sharing the wisdom I’ve accumulated over many years of experiences and keeping my mouth shut and my ears open sometimes feels to me like an Olympic level skill. Yet, paradoxically, not giving advice, trying to teach or correcting behaviours is the one thing that works every time.
Acknowledging the feelings of your teenager (even if you don’t agree and they grate on you), accepting they’re doing what they’re doing (even if you think they should and could be doing better) and refraining from any judgement or criticism (which never ever helped people change, ever) are the actions I’ve observed get us both what we want.
Really, raising a teenager is as much about raising myself.
Really, raising a teenager is as much about raising myself. I’ve had to learn to approach my own feelings with maturity and their feelings with acceptance and wisdom. I’ve had to learn to trust myself and the process that is unfolding (even though I might be absolutely freaking out on the inside!) and I’ve had to learn to never use ‘withdrawal’ of love as an unconscious reaction to my child’s behaviour. It’s been tough. But incredibly fruitful. And beneficial for you because I can share my experiences which, if you’re looking to try a new model, may be helpful!
There’s a few fundamentals in talking to a teen that open and build connection, think of these like tools in your parenting toolbox.
Tool #1 remind yourself “this is an opportunity”.
Whatever happens, regardless of how bad it is, it’s an opportunity for you both to grow and feel more connected (and more love between you) if you don’t jump into reaction.
Tool #2 validate your own feelings first, diffuse the emotional charge
Deal with your own stuff first (if you can. If you can’t, apologise). It’s normal to have feelings around your child’s behaviours. In that moment, your brain will activate past memories of your own teenage experiences, your unconscious conditioning, beliefs, expectations and hopes for the future. No wonder you have a (sometimes extreme) reaction, right? ALL of that lands as a feeling in this moment when confronted with a situation. It’s ok. You’re a human being, parenting. It’s more effective though to not let this reaction land on your child.
Validate your feelings. Remind yourself it’s ok to feel and why wouldn’t you? (that doesn’t mean you have to act on it). Write it out. Yell into a pillow. Share your feelings with a trusted friend. This is not a bitching session about your kid, it’s how you feel about things, so you can feel supported and diffuse your heightened emotion. (Emotion diffuses with validation and acceptance, then you can get on and act deliberately and effectively).
Tool #3 Stay in the love, don’t allow your reactive feelings to separate you
Remind yourself you’re in this together and everything that happens externally is an opportunity for you both to connect more internally. Holding how much you love your child clearly in your mind, keeps you together. Jumping into reaction, is a learnt (unconscious) strategy that creates separation – it becomes you versus them. This feels like the love is withdrawn to them, which creates more reaction and impacts both your self-esteem and your child’s, feeding into unhealthy relationship dynamics. Nobody wins and the opportunity for you both to grow together is lost.
when I use these 3 tools in my approach, I’m more able to listen and validate my child,
because I’ve already listened to and validated myself.
I’ve discovered, I can be lovingly present, as I have diffused my emotional charge. Quite miraculously (because that’s what it always feels like) this opens up a space for a solution to arrive, that I could not see while I was in reaction. I’ve always been surprised at what turns up when I can allow the situation to unfold with love and how effective it is in creating a long term mutually beneficial result.
I remember one big situation I faced with my teenage daughter – I was at a loss as to what to do. I’d been up half the night, writing and sitting in what was going on. I accepted I had no idea what to do and could finally let go and trust the process, trust that there was an opportunity here for us both to grow. I walked into her room and she took one look at my face and said “What’s wrong?” with no plan, I just blurted out what I knew and how I felt and grabbed a piece of paper. I started drawing a trajectory for her….
Me: so if you do that, this may lead here, and here and here and where do you think next?
Her: this and this and … oh no! Mum! I don’t want to be there!
At which point she quickly decided to rectify her own behaviour. (Brilliant! Not my idea, it just creatively popped in, because I was open, accepting and going with what was).
Life’s challenges are amplified when you’re a parent. It’s so much nicer being on the same team. Be kind to yourself, you don’t have to be perfect. You’re human. Celebrate progress.
Lisa Jayne is an emotional educator, working with mothers to implement new foundations in the relationships with their daughters, so they can transform emotional emergencies into opportunities that build courageous, confident and inspirational women. Her mission is to empower young girls to identify and meet their own emotional needs so they do not end up in unhealthy relationships with friends or future partners through the Building Brave Mentoring Program for mothers.