Connecting with Your Child (And Not About College)
Written by Lisa Bleich
“When is the last time you had a conversation with your child that did not revolve around college, homework, activities, or obligations?” Rosalind Wiseman, Author of Queen Bees and Wannabees, Masterminds and Wingmen, and Queen Bee Moms and Kingpin Dads posed to the ballroom full of independent educational consultants and educators at last week’s IECA conference. We all nodded our heads and thought about how true that statement had become.
Wiseman outlined the research she did with hundreds of teenage boys for her book Masterminds and Wingmen. A key point came out:
“Stop interrogating me when I get in the car. We’re trapped and just want to relax. We don’t want to talk.”
She continued, kids carry armor around in school and when they come home they just need space. She drove home the point that teenagers do not want to be accosted right after school by asking us, “how would you feel if the moment you walked in the door, your teenager drilled you with, ‘so how many e-mails did you respond to today? Did you resolve that issue with your co-worker? How about that raise? Did you speak with your boss about getting more money?’”
So as parents, how do you get teenagers to talk to you?
Keep it simple. When you reunite with your kid at end of day, just connect and say, “Hi”. Kids need time to unwind after a long day at school, sports, after school activities, etc. So the last thing they want to do is share it with you. I am constantly reminding myself of this with my own daughters but I find that the less I say, the more they open up.
Check in later. If your teenager will let you in the door, go into his or her room at the end of the day and say, “Hey, just checking in. Anything going on?” Then if they say they’re fine, just leave and give them a kiss goodnight.
Support your kids, but let them advocate for themselves. Sometimes parents get overzealous in their desire to advocate for their kids particularly when they feel as if their child has been wronged. However when parents overreact or advocate in a “crazy” way, it does a disservice for the kids. Additionally, your child will start to see you as untrustworthy and will stop talking to you. Instead, give them the tools to help themselves. If your child tells you something upsetting, a good response is: “I’m sorry this happened. Thanks for telling me and we are going to work this through. I’m not sure we’ll figure it all out, but we’ll find someone to help.” This provides kids with problem solving skills and the recognition that it’s okay to ask for help.
Be present and non judgmental. Most teenagers need a safe place to share their feelings or struggles. If something serious is going on they may be afraid to share it with you for fear of getting in trouble or disclosing a friend’s secret. Often times they may ask you to promise not to tell anyone what they want to tell you. In this instance, Wiseman recommends saying, “I can’t make that promise, but I can promise that we’ll figure out who the best person is to help you.”
Gently push for specifics. Kids often complain about a person or a teacher with vague comments. My own daughter will often say “my teacher hates me.” When I ask her why, she’ll respond, “I don’t know, she just does.” It’s only when I say, “well can you give me a specific example of why you feel this way?” that she opens up and then I understand what is really going on. Sometimes there is a serious issue and without probing your child may think you’re dismissing her complaint.
Schedule time to speak about issues. Kids will frequently bring up a sensitive topic as you are walking out the door or right when you are in the middle of something. Instead of dismissing them, Wiseman recommends saying, “I see that this is important, but I am not in a position to speak with you about it right now. I am free at 8 pm, does that work for you?” This way you acknowledge the importance and set aside uninterrupted time to discuss it.
So next time you start a conversation with your child, see if you can find a way to connect about something other than college!