Communicating Effectively With Teens
All families have problems and disagreements. It is part of the routine of living. Unfortunately, conflict may happen even more often when your child becomes a teenager. Directions, rules or punishments that worked with an 8 year-old no longer seem to work.
Good communication can help you work through conflict. It reduces your stress and helps you stay close to your teen. Studies also show that good communication is important for children. It helps build a sense of support and security. It also teaches valuable skills, like communicating well with others and having healthy relationships.
Good Communication is Two-Way Communication
Good communication skills work two ways - giving clear messages and listening actively.
- Giving clear messages can help you get results on issues like household chores and rudeness. If your messages are clear, your teen is more likely to listen.
- Listening actively shows that you are supportive when the teen has a problem. Research shows that how you listen actually has more impact on your child than what you say.
When you have a problem with your teen, follow these three steps:
1. Step One: Know Who Owns the Problem
When it is your problem, the child's behavior is having a negative effect on you. Maybe it is increasing your household work, wasting money or offending your values. Making sure that dirty clothes are picked up is really a problem for parents. It is the rare teen that cares about the mess on the floor, dirty clothes or sneakers left under the couch. When your teen uses offensive language or is rude to you, it's a problem for you.
When it is your teen's problem, something has happened that has upset him/her. It may be something you are doing or something outside of your control. Active listening will make it easier for your child to tell you how he/she sees the problem. By being supportive, you will be in a better position to help. Try to guide your teen and influence his/her decision-making.
2. Step Two: When it is Your Problem, Give Clear Messages
Let your teen know if a behavior is unacceptable. Explain that there are consequences to unacceptable behavior. This is another opportunity to teach your child and to influence his/her decision-making. Being specific about the impact of a behavior teaches important life lessons. Focusing on the behavior keeps the focus on how you feel and what you want to happen. It avoids blaming and "finger pointing" that can escalate into anger and arguments.
Giving clear messages for problem behavior has four parts:
- Be specific about the unacceptable behaviors (i.e. "leaving dirty clothes on the floor.") Be clear about what behaviors are okay and which ones are not okay. This avoids blaming.
- Be specific about the emotional impact of the behavior on you (i.e. "I feel frustrated by&") It is okay to let your teen know that his/her behavior affects you. In spite of how he/she sometimes misbehaves, your teen wants to please you. All teens want approval.
- Be specific about the consequences of the behavior (i.e. "&because it makes more work for me to pick them up.") Knowing how his/her behavior impacts people helps your teen learn to get along with others.
- Be specific about what you need (i.e. "Put all dirty clothes in the hamper when you take them off.") Be clear about what needs to be done. Also be clear that there will be consequences, if he/she fails to follow through in the future.
Bottom Line: When it is a parent's problem, don't expect the teen to own it.
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