A while back I stumbled on a very simple, but highly effective way to get my teens to engage in conversations with me. Perhaps your child is different, but mine have always been highly reluctant to talk about important things with my wife and me.
An important paradigm shift
First of all, I had to learn over time that if I wanted my teens to listen, I was the one who had to work at it. That was true at home and also my first difficult year or two of teaching. My inclination was that they, as the child, should accommodate me, the adult. Now I see that as being backward.
When I finally realized I could get more accomplished by learning to adjust to them, it made a huge difference. I know that probably sounds obvious, but I think it's an easy mistake to make in the heat of the moment.
A helpful tactic
Here's a tactic that has helped me work around this with my own kids. I've mentioned it before, but it's made a huge difference, so I want to bring it up again.
I frequently say to my kids, "I need to talk to you about something. You choose the time, but within the next xxx days, (whatever period I feel is needed), I need to talk. Okay?"
Or, "I need to teach you something. It's not a huge deal, but I have some guidance for you that will help you. Will come to me when you feel you're ready to hear it?"
If they don't come in the time period, then they forfeit the right to choose. Often, they say, "Just tell me now."
Two other things I say frequently:
"I want to have an adult-level conversation and give you a voice in this situation/decision. But, you have to act like an adult. You get as big a voice as you can be rational."
"You made a mistake/This isn't working (whatever it is). I'm not trying to beat you up, but I need to know you understand what happened and that you have a good plan to fix it. Once I know that, I won't worry about it."
All of these approaches have helped me because they allow the teen time to prepare so they don't feel ambushed, it gives them time prepare their mind and emotions, and it channels their keen desire to be seen as mature and competent, the experts on their own lives.
And shorten a tad?
Last of all, I tend to say way more than needed. I think adults often do that when talking to kids.
But I don't like it when people take my time with things I feel are repetitious, and so I can't really blame my kids for not loving it when I do the same, rambling on and on when they understand already. This is especially true when I'm talking about something my child needs to do better or differently. What adults like hearing about their failings in triplicate? In my experience, most adults tend to go into lecture mode when dealing with teens; we could often get by just as well (or better) with far less. One of my writer friends once responded to a long email I drafted with, "And shorten a tad?" I'm trying to remember that when I'm addressing the adolescents in my life.
Happy parenting--you've got this!
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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