Life with your teen has undoubtedly changed dramatically in these times of shelter-in-place, work from home, and home schooling. Families are spending A LOT more time together, more than they never did before.
The uncertainties and fears that underlie this pandemic naturally create stress, causing short fuses and tempers to rise. Annoyances (emotional triggers) that seemed tolerable before are magnified 100 times now!
Do you feel that happening in your household?
I’m sure you’ve noticed, and that you are doing your very best to keep calm in the family, and to help your teen manage this challenging time now, and to come out even stronger once this crisis has passed.
This is a time when good communication is so extremely important. Here is a difficult truth: You can’t depend on your teen to “get it” — good communication begins with you. We cannot change or “fix” our teens — they can only do that for themselves. However, we CAN work to improve our side of communication’s “two-way street” which will model the behavior for them.
The tips I’m going to share with you will help your communication with your teen, and the whole family, to be clearer, calmer, and more loving.
1. Be gentle with yourself…It’s a process
Communication is powerful in breaking through to our teens, but it is also responsible for breakdowns with our teens. I hope you know that you inspire your teen in ways that are transformational for them. They may not thank you (or even be aware of it) but it’s still a big deal. And you know that the flipside is going to happen: something you say will have your teen bristle defensively or fly off the handle completely! It’s natural, and I know it can be hard to take.
As you try these tips, please pay extra attention to those inspirational, transformative moments I mentioned, so you can remember them during the more challenging moments.
2. Do we like to be heard or to be right?
We parents, in our honest attempts to teach our teens, often communicate to be “right” rather than allow for negotiation, compromise, or simply to agree to disagree. Can you think of a time you might have done this?
When we do, especially with our sometimes-fragile teen, we are limiting a chance for connection and growth to happen. Instead, they freeze up defensively from fear, shame, guilt, etc., rather than open to a new idea or perspective. It becomes a lose-lose result.
Communicating to hear and be heard requires the ability to understand another person’s reality, a process which of course can be difficult between a parent and teen because their worlds ARE so different (and now are bumping against each other because of the shelter-in-place).
3. The Role of Judgments and Emotions
Communication breakdowns happen because BOTH parents and teens are assuming, analyzing and judging. It’s human nature! And when we are busily in that mode, we miss the communication — and the communicator’s intention — entirely.
What’s easy to miss in that moment is that it is all a matter of perspective and, really, no judgment is the truth. Yes, neither your teen’s NOR yours!
This becomes a moment when you can help your teen learn about judgment, to learn to distinguish between their feelings and facts, so they can express themselves more clearly and in a manner that the other person can receive.
Make sure you grab that teaching moment when you and your teen are not highly emotional, but at a downtime when you’re together (there are likely a lot of these moments these days!). Encouraging your teen to look at the facts gives them clarity, grounding, and room to be open to other perspectives.
4. Be an Active Listener
It is critical to be a role model of active listening so that your teen feels heard, respected, and can learn the behavior. How to be a model active listener?
- Be fully present, not half-listening distractedly.
- Face your teen and look them in the eye.
- Refrain from reacting impulsively — stop and breathe before speaking.
- Hold those judgments; be open to your teen’s perspective (even if it seems outrageous — in fact, they may be testing boundaries. Let them do it, and don’t react negatively).
Of course, you can’t be expected to be “on call” at every moment your teen wants to say something. Set boundaries while letting your teen know that what they have to say is important to you; for example, by scheduling another time to have that discussion.
5. Learn Your “Love Language”
Deep communication starts from a place of love and trust. So, it’s important to express your love in a way that your teen can hear it. If your teen’s love language doesn’t match yours, they may not receive the message that they are loved (even if you believe you expressed love). Dr. Gary Chapman’s model of “love languages”™ is powerful because once we understand each other’s love language, we know how to express love in a way that is received and understood, which creates stronger connections.
These strong connections will serve you and your teen always, especially during stressful times. I encourage you to take the “5 Love Languages” ® quiz to discover your love language. Simply go to Dr. Gary Chapman’s website to take the FREE love languages quiz using this link. It’s something you could do with your teen, or as a family project — take the quiz, compare notes, and practice together.
I hope you feel more supported and equipped now to strengthen your relationship with your teen through more powerful, clear, and intentional communications. Keep actively listening, appreciating your teen’s perspectives (especially during communication breakdowns), model what you would like to see more of in your household…and use your love language freely!
To go deeper into these concepts and more, check out my best-selling book, “Unstoppable Teens: A Parent and Teen Guide to Teen Empowerment, Fulfillment and Achievement”.