Some Tips and Tools for your Parenting Toolkit
This is not an article, but a few points that I feel are very poignant when raising teenagers. Try adding some of these to your repertoire, keep doing them if you already are, OR…try some out!
- Learn to tolerate the way your teen expresses the “big/ugly” emotions (ie: anger, despair, jealousy). Expressing and letting this out is GOOD (as long as they don’t express this abusively).
- The above “big” emotions may come out unfiltered and uncensored at first. Try to be ok with this (for now!). Expressing themselves appropriately will get better with practice. But it will take practice.
- Holding in emotions, or not attending to one’s emotions, can create overwhelming internalization. This can manifest as depression, eating problems, self-harm, anxiety, substance use, etc. The aforementioned coping mechanisms are often used to ‘numb’ unwanted or unpleasant emotions.
- I always describe ‘anxiety’ as being a lid on emotions. Nobody really “wants” to feel the above (unwanted and unpleasant emotions) but we need to. If we become competent at knowing what we feel, and knowing what we should DO with those emotions, then we won’t need to put a ‘lid’ on them. Therefore, reducing anxiety.
- Kids need to see that you will be able to handle their emotions. This will invite them to open up to you more. If your child sees (or believes) you are intolerant, frustrated, tired, or overwhelmed yourself… they will hold their emotions in. This is never good. If it’s something you truly can’t handle emotionally, as a parent, then talk to your partner for support, a good friend or a counsellor.
- It is not your child’s job to take care of you or attend to your emotions. This is backward. You are the parent and it is your job to be emotionally available and capable of handling whatever it is your child may bring you (see the above suggestion, if you are not able to do this).
- Try not to problem-solve, or offer advice immediately. Often your child will just want to express or vent. Not be ‘problem- solved’. This is one of the top frustrations that I hear about from kids. Let them come to you to vent. Then ask: “Do you mind if I suggest something?” or “How would you like me to help you with this?”. This grows the prefrontal cortex of their brain and creates greater self-efficacy and strength in their own problem-solving. If you jump in too soon with a solution – it dulls this growth.
- Be curious about your teen, both what they say and what they believe. Say things like: “Oh that’s interesting, tell me more?” or “Your belief about that must come from somewhere…can you tell me about that?” or “I don’t get it… help me understand.” or “I disagree and think that will only cause you pain…can you see why?”
- Be as present as you can – turn off the computers and phone! Open up space for them to come to you when they are ready. They are likely distracted with their own tech use, but eventually when they see you are free of it… they are more likely to come to you. And it is essential to help your child regulate their technology use… see my article on Technology for more info.
- Keep acknowledging their emotions. State, “Wow, you’re really upset” or “That must have been frustrating for you”. This validates their emotions and lets them know that you’re attuned to their needs. This is a really important quality: attunement.
- Try to read and interpret them as best you can. It’s this sense of being seen and understood that is key to good adolescent emotional well-being. Even if you don’t understand (or disagree…) listen anyway, hear them out…help them feel like you are TRYING to get them. This doesn’t mean you have to eventually agree or say YES to a crazy proposition. But connect first, hear them out, then redirect, coach or advise.
- If you don’t connect properly, and make an obvious mistake…repair it (see my article on Apologies). Offer an authentic apology, let them know that you misread them or didn’t “get” them and say sorry. Don’t add a “but” to the end of this apology. Tell them what you had wished you had done/said instead. Modeling this for your child is a life-skill they will always benefit from.
- Remember who the parent is. Don’t allow your child to be abusive to you. And remember that door slamming and eye-rolling is NOT abusive. This is a teen’s (unfortunate) way of expressing their emotions sometimes. It is not a great way to communicate, and you can let them know that. But abuse means: name-calling, throwing things, shaming you in public, or anything physical. They likely need to express their anger, frustration, etc… but this is, obviously, not the way. Let them know: “I want to understand what has gotten you so angry (or whatever). But how you showed me this, was unacceptable. I will try to hear you out when you can come back and talk to me differently.”
- These Tips and Tools will work wonders and strengthen your relationship with your child. Trust me.