Although Valentine’s Day is typically considered a time for expressions of “romantic love,” it’s also a great opportunity to connect with your kids to let them know how important they are to you and how much you love them.
In my work, I often help parents figure out better ways to communicate with their teens and young adults. Having a meaningful conversation with your teen can be difficult, to say the least. Here are four tips to help get your child to open up so you can develop a better connection:
1. Ask “Open-Ended” Questions.
If you ask your child, for instance, “What have you been up to lately?” The typical response may be, “Nothing.” However, by asking the question in a way that compels your child to respond with more than a one word answer, you are inviting him to interact with you in a more productive way. Example: “When you went out with your friends last night, who did you hang out with?” Avoid asking questions that only have yes or no answers.
2. Use Reflective Listening.
Mirror back what your child is saying to you. It allows her to clarify what she is saying and creates an opportunity for you to get clarification, too. For instance, your teen says, “Ugh, every time I go out with Jenny I have to watch what I say. I hate when she asks me to go out with her!” You, as the parent, may respond, “It sounds like going out with Jenny makes you frustrated.” This also helps your child feel heard.
3. Use Affirmations.
It means a lot to teens to know that they have done something right in their parents’ eyes. Identify the positive things your child does and point out the times you respected his decision. It is important to recognize all the efforts your teen makes – big or small – on a daily basis. Acknowledging that it isn’t so easy to be a teen today lets him know you may not understand everything that he goes through, but that you do understand his struggles.
This is helpful when your child needs to change a behavior. It also helps parents learn more about their children’s mixed feelings about a given situation and the reasons why they continue doing what they do. When summarizing, parents help their children notice their ambivalence, affirm it and encourage them to decide what is important to them. It is essential that you allow your child to create his own values and not instill your own.
By calmly summarizing the situation at hand (e.g. the need to stop smoking pot or to enter rehab) and accepting that your child’s initial reaction may be one of resistance, you are allowing him to take more control over his life. As a parent, you can affirm your child’s ambivalence by saying, “You’re right, Trevor, going to rehab will mean you can’t hang out with your friends this summer, but what will happen if you continue to drink and smoke pot in your senior year?” Or, “I hear you say that you don’t want to sleep all day anymore and that you want to get back into bike riding. How do you think smoking weed has affected your energy level this past year?”
All in all, engaging with your child in a meaningful conversation is more likely to be productive than simply telling her what she should do for her future. The latter approach will, more than likely, not only elicit but also intensify your child’s resistance.
So, celebrate this holiday of love by taking time to talk to your kids about what’s really important. For more tips on what to do once you get the conversation going, please:
Wishing you and your family a very happy (and talkative) Valentine’s Day.