6 Ways to Strengthen Your Connection with Your Teen
About two weeks ago I sent my teen to school with tears in her eyes. Not my proudest mom moment. She came down to the kitchen that morning and informed me of a last-minute change to the carpool schedule, which then sent my minute-by-minute planned day in a tizzy.
I did what I always try to do, which is to accommodate, yet this time I got angry because I knew this meant a more stressful day for me. I made it very clear that this was inconsiderate and that I was pissed, which is not my normal morning effect, and for a somewhat sensitive child like my 16-year-old, it was upsetting.
We drove to school in silence that morning, and as we got nearer to the destination, I began to realize what happened. My expression softened as I pulled into the high school parking lot. “Have a good day,” I said half-cheerfully. She glanced at me in silence, got out of the car, and walked away.
“Great job, parenting expert,” I mumbled to myself.
When I got home, I texted her right away. “I’m sorry. This is not a you problem; it’s a me problem. We’ll talk when you get home. I hope you have a good day.”
And it was a me problem. But my not setting clear expectations that I needed to know the schedule in advance and always accommodating last minute, my daughter never knew it was NOT ok to make these changes last minute. Everything I had done in the past communicated that it was fine. It just so happened that on my very busy day, it wasn’t. That was in no way her fault. It was mine, and I owned that.
We are all going to make mistakes while parenting, especially navigating new stages of parenting as we parent different kids with different needs. The important thing is that we learn to repair the relationship and connect.
Here are a few things you can do to strengthen your connection with your teen (and other kids, too):
Strengthen Your Connection
1. Own Your Own Mistakes
We have to model this behavior so kids know it's ok to make mistakes even as adults. It’s important to own even small mistakes, even when the issue isn’t primarily ours, which can take down defensive walls. “I’m sorry I got upset with you when you didn’t get your homework done.”
"I’m sorry" can go a long way when it is coming from a sincere parent. Followed by “I’m really going to try not to do that and respond differently.”
How can you show them you mean it? Think of what’s meaningful to them. Spending some one-on-one time doing what is important to them makes a difference. Maybe it’s dinner together without the siblings, an unexpected Starbucks gift card, a surprise manicure, or an offer to drive them to a friend’s when they haven’t asked yet. These small gestures say, “I get you, and I’m available for you.”
4. Be interested in what interests them.
Is it the latest concert or a friend that they have mentioned? Maybe it’s just sitting by your child as they play a video game, commenting once in a while that they are really good at this, not talking but simply being present. Building connection starts with what they know and love. Ask what they might want to do with you on a free afternoon and make time for it.
5. Stop what you are doing when they talk.
Kids talk at the most inconvenient times. It’s important that we try to stop, look them in the eye, and give them our attention.
6. Listen and Empathize. Listen and Empathize. Listen and Empathize.
Can’t say this enough, especially for teens. Don’t start with advice. Try and remember what it was like to feel how they feel. “That must be really frustrating for you.” “That sucks.” “That’s amazing. You must be so excited.” Lead with empathy, and the rest will follow in time.
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