Among parents and caregivers, numerous factors can pose barriers to making time to have meaningful conversations with our children during their rocky teenage years. Parents may need to work long hours or tackle everyday chores, consuming so much time and focus that it leaves little time to be fully present with their children. After a long workday and looking forward to much needed downtime, it can become easy to focus on ourselves or our partners, resorting to “out of sight, out of mind” habits when teenagers disappear in their room for hours at a time. Adolescents naturally become more independent so understandably they can be emotionally distanced or disengaged. As I use the term “children” here, these tips can be applied to our children at any age; it is fundamentally about providing moments of positive connection.
Provide a safe space for child or teen to be heard
One of the most fundamental needs of children is feeling safe in a nurturing environment that fosters warmth, trust and healthy boundaries lasting through adolescence and young adulthood. When children experience trauma at home in an unsafe environment, especially repeated trauma exposure, this can severely impair their ability to form positive relationships in throughout the lifespan. Conversely, establishing a consistent pattern of being available and emotionally bonding with your children forms a blueprint for healthy relationships in their developing brains, providing them vital skills in forming healthy relationships for the rest of their lives.
Moments of calm connection strengthen the relationship with your child
It is important to place emphasis on the word “calm” as talking to them from a place of anger or criticism can easily bring up defensiveness and does little to foster positive connection. Of course, there are moments where we may become angry or critical with our kids, such as becoming exasperated when they fail a test since they did not study or coming home past hours past their curfew.
Positive communication teaches healthy relationships
It has been well established that children learn behaviors from social modeling and observation. As parents, we can be mindful of how we communicate with our partners and children, setting the stage for less challenging conversations with our teens. It is important to acknowledge that that there will be communication exchanges that go awry, mistakes will happen. When reflecting on these not-so-great moments, we can practice self-compassion and think how we could have handled the situation differently.
Dining together is a big deal
It can be hard to find appropriate settings to have quality conversation time with our kids. Research has shown that teens who dine more regularly with their families (seven days a week versus twice a week or less) reported less drug and alcohol use, as well as less depressive symptoms. Dining in or out together can provide valuable moments of connection that will help wire their brains toward navigating current and future relationships.
With these simple guidelines, parents can be more intentional about the quality and frequency of interactions with their children. No one approach will work with every teen and challenges vary. Many teenagers have their schedules packed, not only with school, but social and extracurricular activities that leave them away from home for most of the day. Building fond memories even in the small moments of the day can do wonders for their well-being. After all, kids grow up so fast!
Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, P. H. D. T. P. (2012). The whole-brain child. Random House. https://childmind.org/article/tips-communicating-with-teen/