“How was your day?”
Who’s been here?
As your child grows up, their increasing independence will change the way they interact with you. Shifting boundaries in your relationship mean that how you communicate with your child will also need to change, so you can continue to support them as a parent.
Discovering and defining these new methods of communicating with your teenager will be a learning experience for you both. Your teen needs you just as much now, as they did when you dropped them off at school for the first time. You need to be able to adapt WITH your child as they mature.
- Make time and space to talk
For important conversations, choose a quiet, private space. As many of these conversations may involve emotions, it’s also important to make sure your teen isn’t already feeling agitated or distressed in any way. Choose a time when they are calm and more likely to have an open discussion.
Distractions, such as mobile phones, may need to be removed. If you’re finding it hard to initiate a conversation, you may want to suggest an activity, such as preparing a meal or going for a drive together. The shared activity can act as a buffer for the conversation, reducing direct eye contact, which can be confronting.
Don’t: rush or force the conversation.
2. Ask questions that encourage your teenager to talk
Active listening is an essential skill in any relationship and contributes to building rapport, understanding and trust.
When you and your child are having a conversation, encourage them to open up and continue talking by asking questions, such as:
- How does that make you feel?
To let them know that you’re listening, and understand what they’re saying, summarise the situation as you’ve heard it. This also lets you act as a soundboard and removes the emotion out of the situation, giving them an objective view of the facts:
- So you […], is that how it happened?
Don’t: treat the conversation like an interrogation. Ask leading questions but let them offer you information – no matter how much you want to know what’s going on, they need to feel like you’re not forcing the information out of them.
3. Show empathy
Talking with teens starts with demonstrating empathy. Put yourself in their position and withhold judgment, to understand their point of view. As someone your teen looks to for support, it is important that you acknowledge their point of view and validate their feelings – this trust that you build with your teenager is essential for maintaining effective communication and a positive relationship.
You can make it clear that you are on their side, even when you don’t agree with them or they’ve made a mistake, by saying things like:
- I can see why you’re feeling [sad/frustrated/annoyed].
- Why do you think [the other person]said/did that?
Don’t: judge what your teen has to say or invalidate their point of view.
4. Just listen!
You child often isn’t looking for advice or a way to fix or solve a problem for them. Sometimes they just need to organise their feelings by talking, or to feel like there’s someone there to love and support them.
If you feel the urge to give a solution to their problem or lecture, try asking:
- That’s rough. Do you want to find a solution or do you just need to vent?
If they’re looking for a solution, help them move towards figuring something out themselves by asking:
- What do you think is the best thing to do now?
Unless they ask for your advice, give them the opportunity to work through the problem themselves. This way, they’ll learn how to process problems and find solutions for themselves, giving them the independence to take responsibility for their own actions.
Don’t: jump in with unwanted advice, try to solve all their problems, or give them a lecture.
Things to remember
Building effective communication with your teenager is unlikely to happen overnight. Take the opportunity to check in with your child everyday about little things that are going on in their life. By proactively engaging in their life, it will be easier to have difficult conversations when the need arises.
Try to keep an open mind. While you’ve probably been around the block before and have learnt from your experiences, your teenager is likely working with these issues for the first time. They don’t know what they’re dealing with, and may just need someone to guide them through the waters. Let them form their own opinions.
Above all, enjoy getting to know your child as they mature and develop into their own person!