How to communicate more effectively with your teen

If you have teens in your house then I’m sure you’ve had at least a few moments of frustration. Those moments of frustration have likely, in some cases, lead to conflict between you and your teen. Wouldn’t it be great to have a few tricks up your sleeve to deal with these conflicts more effectively? Here are some tips about how to communicate more effectively with your teen when it comes to some of the common issues that come up such as getting homework done, screen time, using the car, staying out late, not getting chores done, all of those common issues that over time can lead to big arguments.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Using these tips isn’t going to magically transform the teen years into sunshine and rainbows. But it will lead to less stormy days on a regular basis.

Lots of these tips are tips are things that you can use in other areas of your life, with friends, with your partner and with co-workers

Tip #1 – Understand the teenage brain.

The teen years are an awkward time where they are starting to present as an adult and wanting to be treated like an adult but are still like a child in many ways. Often the expectations we place on teens are not realistic based on their cognitive and emotional development. Their brain is still developing and skills like setting priorities, being organized or keeping to a schedule are very difficult because their brain is still working on those skills. It’s not that we can’t have these expectations of our kids but we need to recognize that in order for them to achieve them they need to be supported in a variety of ways.

Tip #2 – Pick your battles

Avoid unnecessary conflict. As parents, when we’re frustrated with our kids, it can be easy for us to start to fall into a pattern of creating a conflict over every little thing we see them doing wrong. This is exhausting for both of you so save it for the things that really matter.

Tip #3 – Check your own temperature

Going in hot never works. Wait until you’re cooled down and can think rationally about how you’d like to approach the problem. When you need to discuss an issue with your child pick a time where you both have the time to talk, you’re not distracted by other things and you’re in a good head space.

Tip #4 – Be curious. Ask open questions

When in conflict we often make assumptions about the cause of the conflict and why the other person is behaving the way they are. Those assumptions are often wrong. So get curious and ask lots of open questions. Open questions are ones which require an answer other than yes or no. For a list of examples of open questions CLICK HERE. Asking open questions helps you to get to the heart of the matter. It also helps to identify needs. A conversation where your teen feels like you are genuinely listening and interested builds trust. Be non-judgmental about their answers. What is important to them matters even if you think it’s silly.

Tip #5 – Build empathy

Lots of times our teens have no idea what we’re going through or haven’t thought of things from our perspective. So lay it out for them and talk about how their behaviour and choices impacts you, but not in a guilt-trippy kind of way.

Tip #6 – Be a role model

Role model the language and behaviour you want to see.  Speak to them like you would speak to an adult.  The adult world will demand they deal with conflict so model a positive way of dealing with it for them.

Tip#7 – Identify the needs and criteria for the solution.

Make a list of the criteria your solution needs to meet.  For example, getting homework done may be the issue.  Your teen’s need may be that they want to be in charge of their own schedule for getting things done.  Your need may be that you need to be able to see that things are getting done.  So that’s your criteria for the solution you come up with together.

Tip #8 – Write it down.

Create an agreement and write it down.  Review it after a set amount of time to see if it’s working.  And when it is done, it’s done.  Don’t hold this over their head for years to come.  Don’t keep a mental tally of all of their mistakes to use as ammo against them.  It shuts down any possibility for a two-way conversation.

Tip #9 – Let natural consequences be the consequence.

I’m a fan of natural consequences because when you’re an adult those are the kinds of consequences you deal with in real life.  If I don’t get work done in my job no one takes my phone away or tells me I can’t go out. Instead, I have to live with the consequences of not meeting a deadline. That’s a natural consequence. So step back and give them room to succeed or fail while you’re still there to catch them.  Giving them this room significantly contributes to their development of skills.  Cognitively and emotionally they require opportunities to make mistakes and misjudgements, it’s how they learn to be an adult.

Tip#10 – Don’t abuse your authority.

There will be times when you need to use your authority.  In emergencies or when someone is going to get hurt you need to use your authority.  But don’t abuse it.  If your “go to” response for everything is “I’m the parent, do what I say,” you are going to get stuck in a cycle of conflict and rebellion.  This is true of most of our relationships where we hold some sort of power over another.  If all we ever do is assert our power we are asking for conflict and rebellion.  There is little opportunity or motivation for the other person to “buy in” to the relationship or to take ownership of the resolution.


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