If your family is not communicating in a healthy way then you are missing out on one of the biggest keys to building a happy home. For many of you, it’s not your fault. You may not have been shown by your parents how to have healthy conversations.
The teenage years are especially challenging when it comes to communication. And then add that to the complexities of youth sports and you have a real powder keg. This is because parents often continue to talk to their teens the same as they did when they were little kids. But your teenager is growing into an adult. Part of that growth process is feeling like their opinions and feelings matter and what they have to say is important, not brushed off as childish.
In the book The Five Love Languages of Teenagers, author Gary Chapman sets out 8 guidelines for quality conversations with teens. They are:
Eye Contact. This lets your teen know that you're listening.
Full attention. Even though you may be a master at multi-tasking, don’t try to read, watch TV or look at your phone. When they come home from practice or a game venting, give them your full attention.
Listen for feelings, not just words. The things your child is saying may merely be the headlines. The full story includes their feelings. If you are unsure, ask. “It sounds like you are disappointed because I didn’t make it to your game…” This clarifies the emotions and lets your child know that you are truly listening.
Look at body language. Are their fists clenched? Are they crying, jittery or unable to look you in the eyes? Their body language may be saying the opposite of what their words are saying. It’s okay to ask for clarification so that you really understand what your child is saying.
Don’t Interrupt. The average individual listens for only 17 seconds before interrupting and injecting their own thoughts. But your goal should be to understand what your child is saying, not defend yourself.
Ask Reflective Questions. You will reach a point when you think you understand what your child is saying. Reflect back the statement in a question like: “I hear you saying….is that true?” Or “Are you saying…?” The reason for doing this is so that you can better understand what your child is thinking and feeling. Until you know that, you cannot accurately share what they really need to hear.
Ask permission to share your perspective. This may be hard to swallow at first for many parents. Why should you ask permission to tell your child something? The reason is not that you don’t have the right to say what you think because you are the parent, of course, you do. But if you want your child to really hear you, you must take a different approach. If you have expressed an understanding of your teen’s input up until this point, it’s pretty likely that they will be open to hearing your perspective, even if they don’t agree with you.
You are the parent and yes, you have the final word. But it’s not a matter of parental authority; it’s a matter of how you show that authority to your child. You will create a tense relationship when you condemn your teen’s perspective. Try sharing your perspective instead and see if the conflicts lessen.
Janis Meredith is a family life coach who wants to help all parents raise champions. You can find out more at rcfamilies.com.