Do all those sleepless nights and the continual tiredness of looking after babies and toddlers now seem easy compared to living with a teenager?
Are you wondering where your gorgeous child has gone? Have they been replaced by a stranger living in the house?
Being the parent of a teenager is one of the most challenging times for families. I remember sometimes feeling like my daughter was living in a different world to me and it was like living on egg shells. I never knew which personality was going to get out of bed in the morning, would it be the grumpy, non-communicative person where the air was filled with tension and the slightest wrong remark would send us spiralling into argument and a day of tensions, or would it be big smiles, chatting and wanting time with Mum?
Here are 5 tips from my experiences of that time which helped me reconnect with my daughters and made it easier to get through this period.
1. Give them space to develop independence
The teenage years are a time when your child is starting to create a separate and independent life from you and this can be hard for everyone. Overnight it seems like the child that always wanted you there and wouldn’t do many things unless you were with them has suddenly decided you are the last person they want to spend time with and everything you say is wrong. This is hard to take and can at times be quite upsetting, but the worst thing to do is to start closing them down and stopping them doing things. Tough though it is the approach which I found worked best was to give them time and space to decide for themselves what to do in a situation.
It can be hard looking on if you think they are doing the wrong thing yet they will learn better by making their own decisions. What you need to remember is that you taught them your values and subconsciously these will be working for them. Trust that this value set will be there to guide them in making decisions between what is right and wrong. Obviously if they are considering doing something downright dangerous or illegal then intervene but otherwise let them discover things for themselves.
2. Recognise when they want your support
The teenage years can be an emotional rollercoaster, at times your teenager wants nothing to do with you yet there are others when they seek you out and need reassurance. At times like these a hug and some positive words of encouragement will do a lot to restore their self-confidence and put a smile back on their faces.
3. Listen don’t tell
When they do come for support it is so easy to fall into the usual pattern of telling them what to do, saying ‘told you so’ and giving them the benefit of your years of wisdom and advice. Instead just sit back, let them talk to you and be a really good listener. It’s amazing how much they say if you talk less and listen more.
4. Use the right language
We all want to know that are children are safe, enjoying life and getting on well, and as we listen to them talk sometimes our desire for information and knowing what they are up to overtakes us and we become like the irritating dog with a bone who never lets go. We ask question after question often starting with ‘Why’ in our quest for information. From the teenager’s perspective this is like an endless inquisition into every detail of their lives and then the more you probe, the less they will talk to you.
Instead of using endless questions to interrogate, as you listen to your teenager keep an ear out for language they are using which could be limiting them and causing them anxiety. For example they may be living with rules that no longer work for them. Clues to this are sentences that start with phrases such as:
I must …
When you hear these kind of words, use gentle questioning to explore what is happening, for example if they say ‘I can’t concentrate on my revision’, ask ‘What is stopping them, or what is getting in the way.
There is no guarantee they will answer immediately and engage you in conversation, but if you continue to with an attitude of curiosity, respect and genuine interest in them and their views they will talk when they are ready.
5. Be flexible – see their point of view
Take a moment to think what it must be like being your teenager, what does the world look like from their point of view? From this position look back at you and see you as they will be from their own eyes. What insights does this give you? Finally, consider what it is like for somebody else who may come along and see you with your teenager. What would they observe about the two of you?
Connecting with a teenager can be difficult; we all experience the world in a different way and have varying outlooks on life. As they develop their own unique identity and independence they will challenge you and the boundaries you have set. Keep your sense of humour and remember that, above everything else, it is the connection with your teenager that matters most in the end.
By Corrine Thomas