Allow me to paint you a picture. You and your teen talk about issues and rules as they come up. While you have disagreements that you resolve, you never have fights where one person wins and the other loses.
Sound impossible? I raised two kids that way and now I am going to share seven steps to lead you down the same path.
- If you want your child to talk with you, then give him a reason to trust you. Keep his confidence. Ask him if what he tells you is something between the two of you or if it is okay to share it with anyone, including family members. Honor his wishes.
- When you listen, be there 100%. Erase any other thoughts or postpone them until later. Let your mind be free to focus on what your teenager is communicating — spoken and unspoken.
You can be there, fully at 100%, when you are not listening to that Little Voice in your head tell you about your child or what he is saying. Instead you will actually be listening to the words of your child, his emotions and his complete message! Big difference. Huge impact for both you and for your teen.
You must be free from agendas to be there 100%. You have no idea what your teen is about to tell you nor do you have any idea what he wants in coming to you, so ask.
- Ask how your child wants to be listened to. Does he want an opinion, suggestions, advice, or does he just want to blow off steam? No guessing allowed! When you guess wrong, you frustrate him by going in a direction he does not want to go. He may see his effort to talk with you as a waste of time and decide not to make that mistake again.
- For accurate communication, ask questions — not intrusive, prying ones, but check-ins to be certain you are hearing the message as your child intended you to hear and interpret it.
Be sure you are hearing what your teen means to say rather than what you want your teen to say or what you think your teen should say. Respond to a thought saying something like, “Is it accurate that you do not like it when X happens?”
If that is correct, he will say yes and if not, then he will state his thought differently. Check again — you want to understand him.
When your child sees that you are truly available and paying attention he just may feel understood — at least in that moment. The more moments he feels that way, the more frequently he will talk to you.
- Listen without judgment.
- Listen without expectation. When you have no attachment to what will be said or the outcome of what you hear, then you are free to pay attention to every word and every non-verbal clue.
Take all that information, check for your accurate understanding, then follow through with the request your child made for how he wants you to listen to him.
Your young adult may share things that surprise or scare you. He may do that to see your reaction — or he may do that because he trusts you enough to be frank and honest. Your challenge is to listen honestly.
If you are surprised, it is okay and, in fact wise, to say so. Note that it is honest to share your feelings about what he said. However, telling him he is wrong or he should have done such and such differently is judging.
You might follow the judgment with a conviction and a sentence. Such actions could cause you to lose the trust that led to his coming to you in the first place. Then you are back to having a teenager who doesn’t talk and likes to fight.
Consider that there is more than one way to do things and there is more than one solution to any problem. When your child tells you about something you cannot understand, ask about his thinking that led to that action. Ask as many questions as you need to so you can see his perspective.
Seeing his perspective is not the same as approving or agreeing with it. On the other hand, you may gain a fresh view on whatever the issue is.
- If your child has done something that breaks a law or a rule in your family, address that issue. Brainstorm for solutions together. Empower your teen to be responsible for every action he takes — or fails to take — in his life.
Pretending not to notice undesirable behaviors will not make them disappear. Follow the same brainstorming techniques to deal with such instances. You will be surprised how simple it is to create win-win outcomes. I did not say easy. I said simple. Success happens after doing it, doing it, doing it, until it becomes natural. Yes, that task may take effort and seem like work.
Actions and results, desirable and undesirable, reflect self esteem. To change behaviors, treat the cause not just the symptoms.
What are the hidden thoughts of your teen costing him — and you?