4 Steps To Improve Connection With Your Teenager
One of the common phrases I hear in my therapy office is ‘My teenager is struggling and I don’t
know what to do!’ I reach into my toolkit and pull out these 5 strategies to help these parents in
- Reaffirm Attachment Connection
- Increase Connection
- Balance expectations and demandingness
- Learn to manage your own emotions and decrease reactivity
- Schedule/Plan regular quality time together
Reaffirm Attachment Connection
The more I work with kids and teens, the more I realize that teens are very similar to infants. I know. I know. I just said teens are babies, but hear me out. Based on the stage of their brain development, adolescents are more likely to:
– act on impulse
– misread or misinterpret social cues and emotions
– get into accidents of all kinds
– get involved in fights
– engage in dangerous or risky behavior
Adolescents are less likely to:
– think before they act
– pause to consider the consequences of their actions
– change their dangerous or inappropriate behaviors
Have you ever seen a toddler dive off a kitchen counter or barstool? Your teen is effectively doing the same just with larger and more consequential situations. Why? To see if you will be
there to catch them. I believe that children need attachment reaffirmation each time they hit a different developmental stage.
Newborn – will mom/dad be there to feed me?
Toddler – will they catch me?
School age child – will they be at my soccer game/pick me up from school on time?
Early adolescent – If I do something my parent doesn’t like, will they still love me?
Teen– Is my parent’s love really unconditional? If I miss curfew will they still love me? What if I lie or do something I regret? Will they distance or disown me?
It is not easy, but do we as parents pass these tests?
When our patience is stretched to the limit, sometimes the last thing we want is to ask for our child’s time. We may just want to run away physically or emotionally and just get some space,
but that only creates distance. Connection is increased when things get hard and we don’t go anywhere. This action proves to our teen that no matter how tough it gets, they are not alone in the struggle.
Check in with your child, ask about their day and really listen. Ask open ended questions instead of ones that elicit a yes/no response. For example ‘what are your thoughts about prom?’ rather
than ‘do you think you want to go to Prom this year?’ Even if the response initially is ‘nothing’ or ‘I dunno’ you are opening the door for them to share when they want to. If you ask the second
question you are opening yourself up for the yea/nay response.
Look your child in the eyes. It is that simple. I believe that parents have a ‘sixth sense’ when it comes to their children. You will see if your child is happy or hurting by looking in their eyes. Research also shows that just like infants, looking teens in the eye increases attachment
connection and security.
To recap, here are the few small things you can do that will increase overall connection.
- Stay (they are not alone)
- Check in (even if the response is undesirable, this shows that you are aware of them)
- Look them in the eyes
Balance Expectations and Demandingness
The optimal parenting style is Authoritative parenting. This type of parenting is a balance of demandingness/expectation and connection. When kids and teens have both unconditional positive regard and family guidelines, they thrive. It is difficult to take a look at ourselves, but
the other three parenting types come with negative behaviors and effects so in the long run this balance is worth the introspection. Thankfully therapy and parenting support can help with this!
Learn to Manage own Emotions and Decrease Reactivity
Many parents that I see question, ‘am I the problem?’ The answer is …yes..but no.. kinda? I’ll explain. When we use our children’s moods and behavior to dictate our own, we have a high level or emotional reactivity. If our children are ‘monkey see..monkey do’ they will exhibit the
same behavior, and both of you will likely be bouncing your anxiety and stress back and forth off of each other. I read a quote once that said, when little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not to join their chaos.” – L.R. Knost. If you find that you rely on your teens for emotional support, regulation, or that you are extra sensitive to their moods, come in and let’s work on this together!
Parents, we can do this! You are not alone, and it is possible to connect and improve relationships with your teen. They need you!
Have more questions? Contact Connections Family Wellness to talk with our client care coordinator and schedule your first session today!