It's hard to believe that the hulking big lad of 14 who won't come out of your son's bedroom without a suitable enticement is the same little boy who used to hold onto your legs and cry when you left him, right? Well, fear not, as your little soldier is still hiding in there and you just need to employ a few tactics to help him (or her, this isn't limited to boys only) be able to show that he still loves you.
1. Stop underestimating your teen
Your child is more capable, more resilient and more full of ideas than you have ever considered. I think that most parents are guilty of underestimating their child. We see a problem and we want to solve it for them. We have a problem of our own and we try to hide it from them. They show a few emotions and we tiptoe around them. of course, we do these things with the very best of intentions but we actually end up robbing them of important opportunities to learn the skill of problem-solving, to be able to feel useful and to be fully seen, acknowledged and accepted.
2. Stop telling them what to do
and start giving them choices. Teens hate nothing more than feeling like they are powerless. Yes, I know you are the parent and you want your rules to be the ones enforced but instead of dictating to your child how they might act, why not give them a choice? Make sure the outcome of both choices are the same and you then still get the result that you wanted but your teen will feel happier as they retained some control and had a say in how it was achieved.
3. Start being assertive and stand your ground
Your teen only has all the power if you allow them to. Of course, you want to pick your battles, we all know how tiring it is when someone is on at us for every little thing. So choose which battles make a real difference to you and then be assertive and take a stand with those. Don't get into an argument, just politely issue the instruction you need your teen to follow and allow them some time and space to be compliant and if they aren't, well then there needs to be consequences.
4. Follow through on consequences
Every child, whatever age needs firm boundaries, it helps them to feel safe and you continually giving in (for an easy life) just makes your situation ten times worse. So before you issue any consequences or ultimatums make sure they are reasonable and proportionate to what the problem is. Then for goodness sake do carry though if your teen has been warned and they choose to make the wrong choice.
We know as adults that when we make a wrong choice there are consequences (for example, spend all your wages in a fancy restaurant in week one and then weeks two to four will be beans on toast) and the sooner our children learn this the earlier they will see the benefits of doing the right thing and not just want they fancy. When we allow them to take responsibility for their behaviour they grow.
5. Remember you can only change your own behaviour
As much as we would all love to be able to affect and change our loved one's actions and responses it is never going to happen. All we can do is change how we act around or react to them. When your teen is pushing your buttons and doing something that sends you crazy, do something different. Break the pattern of behaviour they are expecting from you. If you normally blow a gasket, walk away. If you normally coerce them into doing as you have asked, stop and try another tactic.
6. Use questions as a powerful tool
Did you know that you can learn as much from your child as they can from you? Learning isn't one way in a parental relationship and when we take the time to have the difficult conversations with our teen we might just open up the door to our own self-development as well as theirs. Using questions to get your child thinking more deeply or considering their actions can be really effective. When my son is rude to me, I tend to ask him if I deserved that or when he moans about his chores, I ask if I'm unreasonable in my expectation of him? It really gets him thinking and I even get an apology at times.
7. Be available at their convenience
You might have noticed that your teen doesn't want to talk to you when they just get home from school and you've made them a cuppa and are ready to sit down and chat. Oh no, they might want you at 11pm when you are ready for bed or right in the middle of doing homework with your younger child. It seems to be at the strangest or most inopportune moments that they want you but for a few years, you'll need to go with the flow if you still want to have those moments of deep connection and open communication as hormones are ruling their bodies and logic isn't something they are strong on for a few years yet.
If you want to maintain a strong relationship with your teen you need to make time for them, listen to them and provide a home where they feel really comfortable and accepted.
8. Catch them doing something good
I went on a parenting course tonight and the key thing I picked up was that teens are an awful lot like toddlers. They undertake risky behaviour, throw temper tantrums, are selfish, want things their way and act out when they are not. So in the true style of early years parenting, we need to go back to basics and ignore the behaviour we do not want and praise and encourage the behaviour we do want.
Catch your teen doing something good - praise them for helping their younger sibling, comment on their tidy bedroom, thank them for doing the recycling or dishes and just generally help them to know they are appreciated and loved. You are the foundation in their life, and when they know they are unconditionally loved by you it makes a big difference.
9. Share your past experiences with them
I'm very comfortable with being honest with my teen and letting them know how I messed up in the past if I think it will help them. Of course, some mistakes need to be made so that your teen can learn the hard and painful way but there will be other things that you can help them avoid by being honest and also open to them asking you questions.
Also, try to cast your mind back and remember what it was like when you were 15 and feeling immense peer pressure to try smoking or to steal some make-up. Place yourself in their shoes and try to offer solutions and advice that doesn't judge but just helps in the best way possible.
10. Forget having the last word
Just because you finish the conversation doesn't mean you are the winner. Dump the stubborn pride and stop worrying about which one of you spoke last. The only thing that matters is the overall outcome of the conversation. If it has become heated then the best thing you can do is allow time for you both to calm down and then come back together and discuss rationally.
Being honest and respectful towards your teen models for them how you wish for them to act. After all, children learn what they live.
Any parent of a teenager will know that it is not always sweetness and light, there are tough conversations to be had and tears may well be shed but on the whole, there is no reason why you shouldn't grow closer to your child as they pass through the teenage years. Keep talking with them, laugh with them, nurture them and hold onto them (metaphorically and physically) with that fierce parental love and they won't go far wrong in the long term.
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