Break through to a deeper emotional connection with your teen with these 6 practices.
Emotional connection is a 2-way street, but as parents, we tend to be one-way:
“What’s going on with you?”
“Can you talk to me?”
And the dreaded question that starts in kindergarten: “What did you do today?”
You know the answer: “Ahh…nothing.”
Then the interrogation follows: “But honey, you must have done something! What about…?”
We create this tension early on and expect our kids to somehow just confide their most intimate feelings.
What’s the secret to emotionally connecting with your kids?
I had no clue in my early years of raising our son and twin girls. But today, as they head into their final years of high school, I marvel how they want to share their exciting news, and bring up sensitive issues without any begging on my part.
Here are 6 secrets I discovered on how to emotionally connect with teens, to let their deep experiences be a natural part of our conversations:
1. Model an emotional connection.
Do you express your emotions with your kids?
I had to learn how to be comfortable expressing my emotions after growing up in a family where anger was a bad thing, and tears were dismissed with “that’s not something to cry about”.
My home environment was happy, but when it came to emotions, it was more like: “Be sensible and get on with it!” Emotions got buried.
Your children feel safer being real with their emotions when you’re real with them. Trust is a feeling of “you get me” because both sides are willing to be vulnerable emotionally.
Have you shared any emotional struggles or mistakes from your teen days? Do you show your true emotions or keep them hidden?
They want to know you’re human too.
2. Create a safe space to express emotions.
Can your children be pissed off, depressed, angry, disappointed, freaking out without the demands of “Tell me what’s the matter!” or the classic no-no: “What’s wrong with you?”
Who would open up emotionally in that controlling and judgmental space?
Instead, whatever emotions are showing up — ask how you can support them or what they need from you. Then listen slowly, and acknowledge their feelings with “I can see how you’d feel that way.”
It’s difficult for any parent to see their children hurt, frustrated, or angry.
We try to fix them with lectures or protect them from pain instead of allowing their genuine emotions to flow.
Your ability to be with their disappointment or anger gives them the resilience and courage to face what’s underneath. You can now have a conversation around their own “why” based on who they are.
Learning to trust their emotions is a huge guidance tool to know which direction to go.
3. Embrace who they are, not who you want them to be.
We have strong opinions about what will make our children happy, and successful. Throw them out. Allow your child to follow their heart, and discover what makes them happy.
Come from this place: “I believe in you.”
Discipline, focus, and hard work are necessary for success, but it needs to be led from their personality, and desires, not ours.
The freedom to be who they are allows them to trust their own feelings, which leads to a healthy self-worth.
4. Ask, don’t tell.
It may feel like your job as a parent is to tell your children what to do. This is the furthest thing from the truth.
Your job is to guide them to be who they want to become.
You need to share what things need to get done and why, but you know what it feels like being told what to do by anyone! Teens especially resist as they are becoming more independent, which is what you want for them.
5. Engage: be interested in what interests them.
When my daughter wants to share a whole passage from a book she loves, sometimes I have to grin and bear it. I try to listen for what’s so exciting for her when it just isn’t that exciting for me.
Same goes for the songs they listen to, the shows they watch, and the games they play. They eagerly want me to experience what they find “wow!”
I fully admit I don’t get them sometimes! If I want to know them for who they are, it requires making an effort engaging in their world.
6. Find consistent times to have 1:1 conversation.
Do you have at least one meaningful precious moment with your teen every day laughing, talking, and sharing — in the car, during a meal, or in the hallway?
As much as possible, I use ‘regular’ moments like chauffeuring as an opportunity to connect. They don’t always want to and neither do I, but being aware of using this time wisely adds up.
A committed 5 minutes at bedtime to say “good night” can create many unexpected intimate conversations. Mealtimes are planned, and opportunities to connect.
Following these practices not only allowed me to connect emotionally with my teens but also allowed them to develop a tremendous connection with each other!
This article was first published on yourtango.com.