Expert / 10 May, 2021 / Bethan Christopher
From the early years of helping them with spellings, driving them to clubs and chatting about the day, parenting younger children can be exhausting but is generally a joyful experience. Yet, as our girls move into the tween and teen stages, parenting becomes a little more complex. Suddenly, asking a simple question like “how was your day?” can be met with outrage at what’s interpreted as unreasonable parental interference. Whilst your daughter may spend hours texting friends and interacting via social media, she might start clam up when asked about who she’s hanging out with at school. This is a time when boundaries get pushed, arguments are triggered, misunderstandings abound and parental angst can start notching up.
As children transition into teenage years, they naturally begin to pull away from their parents. The influence of social media and school friends start to take hold. At this time, staying connected to your daughter is the best way that you can ensure that you still have an influence in her life, and so building a strong, close relationship is crucial.
One of the best ways to navigate this tricky stage and keep the communication gates open, is to learn a few little tricks to get – and keep – your daughter talking about how she feels. Here are a few ideas to help.
Most people exist in a state of hyper-distraction. Phones ping, notifications flash, TVs blare, emails shout and chores mount. The chaotic demands of modern life mean that people struggle to stay present with each other – adults and children alike.
The first step to creating safety for your teen to open up is to start with distraction-free time. Aim to regularly do something together and during this time, eliminate the distractions (ie. phones). It doesn’t matter if you aren’t talking. Just hanging out together and doing something you both enjoy, such as cooking, walking the dog or going to the cinema builds a space and bond between you. If gentle conversations take place, that’s great. If they don’t, it doesn’t matter. What matters is no judgement, no agenda, just time to do something and talk if the words arise.
How often do you and your family sit down to eat together? As children get older and their evening schedules shift, sitting down and eating a meal as a family can become sporadic. Dinner times, however, are the perfect time for you and your children to be together, check in with each other and talk casually.
Your daughter needs to know that she can be with you and chat, without having to answer what she considers to be intrusive questions or feel disapproved of for something she may say.
The more your daughter feels as though she can trust you, the more connected she will feel. If something comes up while you’re talking and it triggers a reaction in you, take a moment to breathe and try to avoid judging or criticising.
Ask yourself, would I rather that my daughter trusts me enough to talk about what is happening for her? When gently discussing the issue and any situations or behaviours you want to change, you’ll have much more influence if your daughter feels safe and connected.
You’re in your favourite coffee shop, sipping a latte and telling your friend about some deep-seated problem in your life, when suddenly your friend’s eyes widen and she blurts, “Oh! you’ve just reminded me, I need to phone the vets.” She jumps into a turbo charged story about what a nightmare it is to get a vet appointment. Your heart drops. You’ve lost the thread of what you were saying and the conversation has moved on anyway.
Many of us are challenged listeners. If you watch (or listen), most people’s version of listening is to interrupt, cut in, go off on tangents, tell a story about a similar experience or they try to come up with solutions to fix the person’s problems. All of these behaviours demonstrate that a person has stopped listening.
Creating safety for your daughter to open up and talk about how she feels involves you learning to be a good listener. This means zipping your lips, pausing your opinions, judgements and reactions and simply listening to what they want to say.
Every little piece of news your child tells you, every happening in the school playground or tearful anecdote about something terrible that occurred, is an opportunity to open a conversation about feelings.
Imagine your daughter has come home from school and is telling you about something another child has done to upset her.
The natural inclination is to ask them more details about the event, what happened, what did the teacher say and how it was resolved. This pulls the focus of the conversation into the drama as opposed to focusing in on your child’s experience of it.
Next time this sort of conversation occurs, try responding by offered a statement about how the situation may have made your child feel. You could say something like, “That must have felt really …..” Then fill in the feeling word, for example happy, confused or frustrating.
It may be that the feeling you’ve offered up isn’t an accurate description of what they’ve felt, but by doing this you still give them the opportunity to reflect on their inner experience, process that feeling and let it go.
Young people are quite capable of finding their own answers. One of the most supportive things we can do as parents is to give them space and listening to find those answers.
It’s a natural parental instinct to try to help our kids, so when a child comes to us with an upsetting situation, we can be inclined to try and fix the situation by offering solutions. However, by keeping quiet, focusing on everything they are saying and being present to their feelings, we allow them space and the safety to process what is happening.
Try to give your child space to fully communicate what is happening for them. If they pause, resist cutting in. Often by holding off and giving them a moment of silence, more words will come.
Once you think they’re complete, then ask them if they’d like to hear your thoughts … or even ask them how they’d like to proceed with the issue.
Your child may not necessarily be looking to you for solutions to their challenges and problems. She might just need a listening ear.
Stresses occur naturally in life and all kids will, at some point be left feeling sad, scared, angry or hurt by events that have happened. These events won’t always be triggered at home, but by other people who they interact regularly. By teaching your daughter how to share her feelings with friends in a healthy way, you’ll enable her to process and talk through uncomfortable situations and build stronger, happier relationships.
Often, when people try to communicate hurt feelings, it goes a bit like this:
“You cancelled on me last minute. I’m sick and tired of you letting me down!” This sort of communication is accusing and will almost always invite an argument, as the other person is likely to feel blamed and defensive.
However, if you can teach your daughter to separate the facts (what has happened) and the feelings (how the facts made them feel), the other person is much more likely to listen. For example,
“We’d arranged to meet me at the bus stop and you cancelled.” (Fact). “I was really looking forward to meeting you and I felt really disappointed.” (Feeling).
Taking responsibility for how a situation has made them feel and expressing these feelings in a non-accusing way will help your daughter to develop close and sustainable relationships.
Once you’ve begun to create some spaces to talk to your child and the trust is there, keep the conversations flowing.
The world is changing fast and for young people, communicating via the internet and phones is as natural to them as running water. Step into your daughter’s world and know that communication doesn’t always have to be traditional. Send little text messages, memes and gifs. Take interest in the way that your daughter and her friends connect and communicate online.
By building this continually flowing conversation, you build consistency and trust. Yes, there will be hiccups along the way. We will undoubtedly make mistakes both as parents and children. However, the better the flow of communication, the more receptive our girls will be to our guidance and the more empowered they will be to move through life’s challenges with resilience.
Bethan Christopher is the author of Rebel Beauty for Teens: 7 Ways to Unleash Your Unique Brand of Gorgeousness, published on 15th April 2021 by Welbeck Publishing, available online and from all good bookstores
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