When your kids are young, no matter how terrible the situation, as a parent you seem to possess the magic power to make things alright. Not being invited to a birthday party? The tears make way for laughter for the five-year-old with just a trip to McDonald’s, popcorn and a movie together or even a simple round of Uno and lots of words of wisdom. By age eight it gets a little more difficult but diversion still seems the tactic to use – the stakes just get a little higher ... a sleep over? A story of a similar childhood experience? And, maybe still throw in that trip to McDonald’s.
By the time your child becomes a teen, you would think they would understand that they are not going to be invited to every party or liked by every person in their class. You would think that they would have developed some sort of immunity to getting their feelings hurt. But in reality, the importance of peers, friendships and acceptance becomes even greater, and the fall taken when rejected or left out becomes harder and more painful.
As parents, we immediately jump in trying to “fix” the problem as we did when they were five. Stop, says Dr. Susan Kuczmarski, Chicago author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent’s Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go
. “Teens, like adults, are entitled to their feelings. When a teen is angry, sad or otherwise upset, don’t deny, rationalize or try to “fix” the feeling,” says Kuczmarski. “Responses like “Don’t be angry” or “That shouldn’t hurt” or “Try not to be sad” are so common that, at first, they sound correct. But this is far from true. What your teen really needs is for you to validate the feeling.”
Don’t underestimate the power of peer relationships and friendships. For a teenager, friends are the be-all and end- all. They are the rainbow and at the end – the pot of gold is acceptance, inclusion and yes, an invitation to that party.
Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Being excluded hurts and often causes self-questioning and self-doubt. If you oversimplify the situation or dismiss the importance, you are saying some pretty strong things to your teen. You are saying “you are overreacting, what they are doing to you is not wrong,” or “your feelings are not important or worthy to be expressed.”
Kuczmarski says that to truly validate your child’s feelings, you must first listen and try to understand the feeling, then acknowledge that it exists and finally accept it rather than trying to alter it. Kuczmarski says that teens, like adults, have a right to their feelings and as parents we need to give them the room to express what they feel no matter how irrational, explosive or volatile.
In fact, when teens learn to verbalize their powerful, strong, even “dangerous” emotions in safe, appropriate ways, they are less likely to feel compelled to act them out, says Kuczmarski.
Kuczmarski’s Practical Tips for Talking to Kids/Teens:
. The first step in communicating with your kid/teen is to make yourself available. Let your teen choose the time. As long as they know you are there for them, they will come. There may be no advance warning when your teen arrives, plops down and is ready to open up. Seize this opportunity.
Look for the good and acknowledge what you see
. In our fast-paced world, it’s easy for teens and adults alike to lose touch with their unique gifts and talents. Reminding teens of the special beauty within them can light up their path and encourage them to take their next steps, whatever they may be.
Tackle issues quickly
. When issues come up, talk them through, don’t avoid them. This is important.
Be open and direct
. Go easy on the unsolicited advice. The style of talking that is best is direct, straight, and clear. Don’t give advice unless your teen asks for it.
Stop the questions
! Try and carry on a conversation without asking one question. Listen to your child’s technique. You will discover that they don’t ask each other any questions, they just talk. One teen will say “Gosh, I hate Ms. Duff.” The other teen would come back with “Man, what a jerk. This is what I heard she did to somebody else.” And the teens would keep talking about it. But a parent would say, “What happened?” Catch yourself the next time you ask your child all your usual questions.
Source: National Sleep Foundation, http://www.sleepfoundation.org
Dr. Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D.
: The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent’s Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go
, has received a prestigious “Seal of Approval Award” from the National Parenting Center and Book of the Year Award from Foreword Magazine
. She has done extensive research into how teens learn social skills and conducts workshops for parents and educators. For more from Kuczmarski on teens, go to www.sacredflight.com