Last week in my counseling office, a parent asked me, “How do I get along better with my kid?” I thought this would be a good topic for the blog.
Of course there are a myriad of reasons why adolescents and parents argue. I’ve heard the gamut of explanations ranging from hormones to how awful the teen’s friends are. One cause that parents sometimes suggest is that it is the parents. Truthfully, there are always a number of factors contributing to disruption in the parent-child relationship so I don’t want you to read this and feel blamed if you are mom or dad. Disclaimer aside, how might you be contributing to the problem?
Parents, might you be overly critical? You give your child a compliment, but follow it with a criticism. For example, “Kaylee, you look nice today, even if that skirt is a little short.” How often are you doing this to your child? Maybe you’re not saying it, but it’s in your actions. For example, “John, thank you for cleaning up the kitchen so well. You did a great job,” as you’re quickly giving the counter a wipe to get the excess crumbs.
Sometimes, we get so focused on helping our kids fix what isn’t going right that we forget to tell them the things they do well. For example, your son brings home a report card with all As and Bs, but there is one C. You feel very upset about the C because you know they could’ve earned at least a B in that class. Your teenager senses your disappointment and then takes a defensive attitude. Really though, they did well in 5 other classes and we forget to talk about that.
So, if you’ve identified the ways you are too critical, what do you do now? How can you give your child loving correction without accidentally demeaning them? Just ask yourself how you’d want to receive correction if you were your child. How would you best learn what is being taught? Don’t forget that you are teaching your teenager how to function as an adult, and the individual situation is often less important than the overall big picture. If you are the dad who is always criticizing the way your kid plays sports, remember the point of sports is to learn how to focus, give your best, keep a good attitude on the field, and respect authority. The point is not to create the next Kobe Bryant; athletes of that caliber have a passion all their own and their parents did not have to force it.
Start serving your child more. This is likely a shock because those of us with children know we are serving our child all day long. We are driving carpool, writing a check for a yearbook, helping to fundraise for the softball team, etc. When I say to serve your child, I am meaning in a more intimate and loving way. One example I can think of comes from a former 15 year old client. One time in session she told me how much she respects and listens to her mom’s opinion. Since this is unusual for a 15 year old, I asked her what her mom does that makes her want to listen. My client told me that her mom is always being thoughtful. She said after track practice her mom picks her up with a plate of chilled salad sitting on the front seat because she knows my client will be both hot and hungry. She knows my client cares about healthy eating and that this kind of snack will help my client avoid eating junk before dinner. This mother is truly serving and considering her daughter. As a result, her daughter feels more inclined to respect her mom’s opinions and beliefs.
So, this week, maybe try two things if you want to get along better with your teenager. Firstly, pay attention to your critical comments. Find a kinder, more empathetic way to say them. Secondly, look for opportunities to serve that are a little above and beyond. It might not work the first time you do it, but if you stick with it for a little while you probably see some changes.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,