How to talk to your teenager successfully | Support 4 Kids Ltd

Oops, I did it again! How to pay attention to your teenager

You are standing at the sink, thinking about the long list of things you need to finish before you go to bed. All of a sudden you realise your distressed teenager is telling you something.
​The problem is that you have no clue what they’ve been on about for the last 5 minutes, a familiar feeling? 

​It may feel like that crucial moment is lost forever, simply because you zoned out for a second and focussed on something else. Well, welcome to the club, it happens to us all, often resulting in us feeling like a bad parent. But let’s be honest, it’s tricky, if not near impossible, to use active listening and having meaningful conversations every second of the day!

First, stop beating yourself up about those moments you have missed in the past and instead focus on the future. Be clear that you want to change how you interact with your teenager but also embrace that this change will not necessarily be an easy one to make. Second, once you have acknowledged that this change might be difficult, notice how it will alleviate some of your guilt about the past. You are now free to move on and become that Super parent who is able to use active listening skills when needed.

Sounds tricky and overwhelming? Of course, it can seem overly challenging in an otherwise busy day to show an interest on demand, a feeling that isn’t helped by the fact that we also have a strong suspicion that the effort is wasted because our teenager is not listening to our advice anyway!

But this is where we are going wrong, teenagers do not necessarily want parents to OFFER ADVICE, they are simply looking for a safe environment where they can air their thoughts. It can’t be emphasized enough that good listening and communication skills are essential to successful parenting, which often means it is better to simply listen and not offer advice.

Therefore, aim to adopt a non-judgemental attitude towards your teenager’s thoughts and actions. Remember, your teenager’s feelings, views and opinions have worth, take the time to sit down, listen openly and discuss these honestly. If you manage to get to this stage, make sure you avoid the common trap – don’t react too harshly to the things your teenager tells you as it is very easy to pass judgement based on your own feelings, experiences and expectations. Achieve all of this, and you will be surprised that you’ll reach a point where your teenager may even be willing to listen to your suggestions.

Think about these tips before falling into any other traps:

  • First and foremost, it is crucial to give your teenager your full and undivided attention, even if you have to schedule an appointment with them to make it happen. For 10-20 minutes, prioritise your teenager’s need to talk. Listen to the whole story, don’t rush, give them eye contact and be inquisitive.
  • Be receptive to your child’s feelings and emotions, encourage them to express themselves openly and honestly without fear of repercussion.
  • Giving your teenager a safe place to share their experiences without the risk of being judged will enhance their self-esteem as they are learning to develop their own communication skills.
  • If you overreact, you are sending the message that their feelings and opinions are not valid.
  • Avoid discouraging your teenager from feeling upset, angry, or frustrated. Continually remind yourself that part of growing up means that your teenager has to learn how to deal with their own disputes, worries and similar challenges.
  • Remember, no person is ever happy all the time, it is ok for your child to show fluctuation in their mood. The sooner your child figures out how to deal with highs and lows, the better equipped they are to deal with life’s challenges.
  • Respond ‘maturely’ to their concerns by asking questions like ‘what makes you feel this way’ as it opens a dialog allowing your child to discuss their feelings further.
  • By using active listening and gentle guiding, it will give you an opportunity to collaborate on a solution that perhaps they would not have come up with on their own. If appropriate, share your own similar experiences which they may want to draw from, they might even realise that maybe, after all, you do understand how they feel.

Despite being the Super parent using all your newfound listening skills, you may reach a point where the situation cannot be resolved. If this happens, make sure to leave the door of communication open so your teenager remains reassured that the next time they feel upset, they can safely ask for help in the knowledge that you will not judge or punish them for how they are feeling or the actions they may have taken.

Start Listening!

By Tina Elven

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