Column: Calm conversation with your teenApril 27, 2021
Whether we like it or not, we are constant role models to our kids. Our children are always watching our actions and listening to our words. What a high pressure job to have.
There are times when we are not the best parents, but this is to be expected. We are human just like our kids. As parents, we often make mistakes and respond negatively to everyday stressors. Although life can occasionally become overwhelming, it’s important to remember that we always have a choice as to how we respond to frustrating situations.
Healthy management of stress is an essential skill for children to develop. If we pretend that nothing flusters us, we lose an opportunity to guide our child with helpful and productive methods to manage stress and discomfort. Our actions and choices as parents are the best learning tools for our children.
One of the key elements in helping developing adolescents is providing the space for open and honest communication. This means remaining calm even if what we hear is hard to swallow or causes us some discomfort. Honesty is crucial, because our kids can sense when we are faking emotions or not being genuine in conversation, just as we can sense it in them.
When difficult conversations with your teen arise, it is OK to say something like, “Right now, I’m so upset that I can’t make decisions. I want to think this through instead of reacting.” Or maybe something like, “We’ll talk when I’m ready. I need to calm down first.” Then, go take care of yourself. Take the time to process your thoughts and feelings. Once you are ready, you can come back ready to support your teen.
Remaining calm is easy in theory, but it can be a lot harder in practice. Calmness is crucial, however. A calm response strategically positions us to have the influence our children need as we guide them toward adulthood.
By the time young people reach late adolescence, they still do not have the ability to make decisions nearly as well as adults because their brains are still developing. When we use calm responses and openness, we create the opportunity for logical problem solving. If we yell and scream, we are signaling to our child the need for an emotional defense by tapping into the survival part of their brain.
By providing calmness in an intense situation, we allow our child to develop and practice thoughtful plans to carry into challenging situations. We allow our adolescent to reflectively link short- and long-term consequences to their choices.
Although we may not agree with our teen or approve of the choices they make, we can still express love and empathy. When we get upset with them, it is because of how deeply we love them. Their radically developing brains need reassurance that they are unconditionally loved as their emotional sensors are maturing and sensitive to the reactions of others.
When we practice calmness in our parenting, we become parents who are more willing to work together with our teen. Young people talk to adults who listen. We have a tough job on our hands raising a teen, and although we will never be perfect, we can work to become trusted partners with our child.
Mary Haas, LSW, is the Youth First Social Worker at Evansville Christian School in Vanderburgh County. Youth First Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families, provides 64 Master's level social workers to 92 schools in 11 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year are served by Youth First's school social work and after school programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors and maximize student success. To learn more about Youth First, visit youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.
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