(This is the second post in a three part series. Click here for part 1)
Communication is Key
It can be easy to tell yourself, “if my child is worried, they will tell me”, or, “if they need help with schoolwork, they will tell me”, but the ways teenagers communicate their feelings are not always so straightforward…
1. Make the first move
Sitting back and waiting for your teenage son or daughter to come to you could lead to you are waiting an awfully long time!
You are the adult and parent, so take the first step to show them you care.
Catch them at the right moment to have a chat or make a request. Timing is very important!
Some good times to open up are…
- A meal or snack time (when it is just the two of you)
- While doing an activity such as a walk or preparing dinner
- When they are relaxing
Try to avoid starting conversations…
- As soon as they walk through the door from school
- When rushing to get somewhere
- Late at night
- When siblings, friends or other family members are around
- In an ad-break
- During a fight
3. Location, location, location
Talk on their ‘turf’.
Teenagers will respond better if they feel they have some control over the conversation.
Teenagers often say they feel cornered if parents start asking questions during a car ride or in the bathroom – this makes them defensive.
- Waiting until a quiet time of night (after dinner, after all chores have been done, not too late)
- Knock on their bedroom door and ask permission to enter
- Ask if they have time for a chat
- Don’t beat around the bush. Teenagers can get suspicious when parents suddenly want to “talk” and are unlikely to respond well to small talk
- Tell them you want to know how they’re coping
For example, say:
- “I haven’t heard much from your teachers or from you so just wanting to know how you’re finding it all”
- OR, “You look a little stressed recently, how’s it all going?”
If your adolescent tends to respond with “yep”, “nup”, or “dunno” try asking open-ended questions such as:
- “Can you tell me about your teachers this year?”
- “How are you getting along with your friends?”
- “What do you think you’ve done well so far this year?”
If you find this process is too hard and you are not ‘breaking through’ you might like to consider engaging an experienced psychologist to help.
4. Get as much information as possible
Keep asking questions until you know what the situation is.
- “Okay, is there anything else that is stressing you out?”
- “What exactly happened?”
- “How did that come about?”
5. Listen without judgement
If a teenager tells you they are stressed about maths, they are unlikely to take it well if you tell them they simply need to study more.
When you feel you understand what is stressing them out, it is best to approach the issue as a joint problem-solving activity.
Don’t try to solve their problem for them.
6. Problem solve together
If your teenager tells you about something specific that is stressing them out, it is important to work through it together.
- “What have you already tried to solve the problem?”
- “Why do you think that didn’t work?”
- “Do you have any other ideas?”
- “Is there anyone you could go to who could help?”
- “Do you want to hear some of my ideas?”
When suggesting your ideas, be careful not to use “should”, or “must” as kids may not respond well to being told what to do.
- “Have you thought about…?”
- “Maybe you could try…?”
Emphasise to your teenager that you may not be able to solve the problem completely or all in one go but it’s worth trying something which could improve things.
If you are still unable to open up the lines of communication?
7. Separate behaviours from the person
Try to treat the problem as something external that you can deal with together
Don’t say: “You are lazy and need to work harder!”
Do Say: “Okay, I can see you are finding it difficult to get motivated. How can we help you get more motivated?”
Even if your teenager is reluctant to open up the first time, keep trying!
Keep the lines of communication open.
Tell them that you are there if they need support and that you will listen.
Don’t worry too much about “dunnos” or shoulder shrugs or take it personally as this is simply part of ‘growing up’.
9. Seek external help
You may realise that there is not a specific event, problem or issue that your teenager is experiencing but they continue to feel stressed or low.
If this happens for another one to two weeks, this may be a sign that they need to talk to a psychologist.
In the third and final post in this series I will outline some ways to help your teenager get organised and find the right balance for study vs leisure time.