Have you ever felt like you're being led on a wild goose chase like Clarice Starling from Silence of the Lambs when talking to your teen? No matter how calm or sweet or loud or angry you get, your child will not talk to you. You might feel at your wit's end, because it seems like you have tried everything. No matter what you try, you feel there is no progress. Do you wonder how your child knows the right buttons to push just like Dr. Hannibal Lecter? How do you make them understand that you want the best for them and you genuinely seek to understand them?
It starts with a few simple steps that you continue to practice consistently over time. Like many of the suggestions in this series, the list I am about to give you is merely a list unless you make it more. You are the only one who can change your relationship. It will not happen overnight, but you can do it! I believe in you! You are going to hear me say A LOT through-out this series how much I believe that broken relationships CAN be healed! I want you to keep hearing it, seeing it and reading it until you believe it! The first few tips are for de-escalating both yourself (if you need it) and your child. After that we will discuss ways to cue in to what your child is communicating with you. Here we go...
You have been following this series for a while now, you probably already know what step one is...
.self-check. Since you are a vital part of making sure the conversation goes smoothly, you need to figure out where your head is in that moment. I have to do self-checks through-out my day, especially when I have had an extremely long, tiring day and my toddler wants to have a meltdown in the grocery store. Ask yourself: How am I feeling? How was my day? Is my day affecting what's happening right now? Did I overreact? What emotions am I feeling right now? What am I projecting to my child? Am I ready to talk? It's likely that you won't remember all of those questions, but even remembering one of those questions can help bring you back to a calm state of mind. If you find that you are not ready to talk, let your child know you will talk in (random number) minutes. Time is sacred. Time helps everyone to refocus.
.be their thermometer. As much as you are tired of arguing with your teen about (insert random concerning issue), YOU have to keep your cool. You are in charge of the conversation. It is your job to model appropriate responses and behavior to your child. Even if you have struggled with this in the past, it is never too late to attempt to correct it. Your child may make you want to scream - resist the urge to join in on their crazy!
.lead. Parenting is about being your child's leader 90% of the time and their judge 10% of the time. What do I mean by that? We all want our children to grow up and become successful adults. We will not always be there for our children, which means they have to learn to make appropriate choices. They learn to make appropriate choices when we offer them a chance to make their own decisions. Of course I don't mean allowing them to make every decision, but we have to teach them to discern certain things. If you want more information about what I mean, you can read a post I wrote about this.
In order to lead your child effectively, you should ask yourself a few questions: What is my child's personality vs. my personality? When does my child "act out" or get frustrated? Am I attentive to my child's needs?
You know what your personality is and you know what your child's personality is, but maybe you have never weighed them against one another. If you have never thought about this, I would encourage you to think about it. Consider this, if you have a loud, boisterous personality, but your child has more of a quiet, soft spoken personality - many of your conversations are probably stressful. You may think something is mentally wrong with your child if they frequently burst into tears during confrontational situations. Perhaps you should change your approach and try talking to the child privately about your concerns. On the other hand, it may seem overwhelming if you are a quieter, soft spoken parent and your child is a passionate, energetic teen! Work together to figure out the best way to have conversations.
Pinpoint the specific time of day or activity that occurs where your child usually gets upset. This can be very helpful, because it will change your response to them. For example, if my teen is extremely grumpy the first hour they wake up, but an "angel" after an hour and thirty minutes, then I will know that I need to offer grace for that first hour. When I offer my child grace, my response will be a lot different. If I don't expect my teen to be grumpy and they make a smart off the wall comment, I am more like to respond reactively. On the other hand, if I am expecting them to be grumpy and they follow through with my expectation with a rude comment, I may gently re-direct them at the moment. Then follow up with a more specific conversation when they are in a better mood. One way to help pinpoint the specific time of day or activity is to ask: what happens just before the behavior?
When I asked if you were attentive to your child's needs, your mind probably answered yes automatically. Now that we moved past that initial response, stop and think seriously.... are you attentive to your child's needs? Example: Your child comes home and talks to you about their frustration with other students and you begin to focus on drilling anti-bullying strategies into their head. However, if you would have asked for more details, you would have discovered that the child is not being bullied, but is actually asking for help with friendship skills or conflict resolution. When your child talks to you next time, try to keep in mind: What does this child need right now? What are they looking for? Can I tell when my child needs to spend time with me? When your toddler continues to "bug you" while you're busy and you get frustrated - it's probably a sign that they miss you and want to spend time with you.
Children are still learning to manage their emotions, so they can't always communicate their emotions properly. You have to consider your reaction, do you give your teen more attention when they make negative choices vs. when they positive choices? Carefully consider this question, because it's important for effecting behavior change. When your child presents an issue, brainstorm helpful solutions with them. Even if their thinking is off the wall, encourage them to think about it deeper as opposed to saying "That's not smart or don't do that!" right off top. Finally, thank your child for talking to you. Make them feel appreciated and regardless of how short or simple the conversation is be sure to let them know you are glad they chose to talk to you!
The bottom line is just like in the movie - the only way to get your child talking to you is for to become emotionally vulnerable with them. Not falling apart, not necessarily becoming best friends, but expressing who you are as a human - modeling how humans feel things. Demonstrating that feelings are ok to feel, but it's how we manage those feelings is what impacts our lives.
Tomorrow's Post: Finally The Truth About Parenting a Different Child (feat. Nicole Bryant)