Building a Strong Relationship with Your Teens
Improving relationships with our teens is effort well spent. To some, the idea seems daunting. “How will I ever get my teen to respect and like me?” you wonder. Still, teenagers who have one caring adult in their life fare far better as adults than those who don’t (see developingchild.harvard.edu article). Hopefully, this means the interactions have an element of friendship underneath; this gives you more permission to have the parental interactions when they are needed.
Steps for Improving Our Relationship with Our Teens
Tracking The Improvement in Your Relationship with Your Child
That said, if you decide improving your relationship with your teenager is one of your new goals, then it’s time to plan. Firstly, let’s figure out a few reasonable ways you can track yourself to see how you’re doing. For example, if you yell when you’re frustrated, try writing a quick note on a calendar at the end of each day: “Good today,” or “Yelled too much today.” While it’s simple, holding yourself accountable is the key to changed behavior. The other key is sticking with it. It supposedly takes 7 weeks to change a habit. That’s 49 days. In theory, tracking behavior every day for a month and a half elicits change.
Be Patient with the Process of Improving Your Relationship with Your Adolescent
Secondly, you must be patient. When you become nicer to people in your family, they won’t even notice at first. They will go on reacting towards you the way they always have. Keep in mind, you probably have to give it about three weeks before you notice them starting to be kinder in return. For their part, your adolescents won’t even realize they are being nicer in return. It eventually just starts to happen. Sadly, many parents I work with lose patience with this process because it is hard to make a huge effort for three weeks. Also, it’s very challenging not to get caught up in the garbage your teen can dish out.
Give Yourself Grace When Learning to Get Along with Your Teen
Thirdly, have grace towards yourself. Unlike a New Year’s Resolution to run 4 days a week, you can’t measure your behavior and emotions in the same way. You can resolve to do 4 nice things for your teenager per week that you wouldn’t normally do, but you can’t decide to be kind 4 times per week and then have a perfect relationship. We have to be trying ALL the time to improve our relationship with our teens, while constantly forgiving ourselves for returning to our old ways. In essence, you have to push the reset button in your mind 20 times a day. When you do speak harshly to your teenager, or allow them to push you around, or whatever you’re trying to change, just take a deep breath and get back on the path. Eventually, this gets easier. I promise!
Eyes on the Prize (Getting Closer to Your Teen)
Finally, don’t lose sight of the reward at the end. You need to consistently visualize what things will be like once you’ve achieved the goal of an improved relationship. To this end, maybe you imagine hugging your son each morning when he’s on his way out the door to school. Similarly, perhaps you picture your daughter wanting to take a walk with you on a Saturday morning. Or, maybe you see yourselves sending funny little text messages to one another throughout the day. Whatever it is, don’t lose track of where you’re headed. Dave Ramsey always says, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” While he’s a money guy and I’m a psychology lady, I wholeheartedly agree.
To put it another way, you need a tangible goal to achieve. Don’t try and picture being best friends with your teenager. That’s not likely to happen anyhow (And you want them to have their own friends). Just keep your focus on things looking a little better than they do right now.
When to Seek Counseling to Get Along Better with a Teenager
For some of you, improving your relationship with your teenager feels like it’s beyond a simple blog post. In those cases, our counselors at Teen Therapy OC can help. We’re always happy to spend a few minutes free of charge on the phone with you or to answer an email or two. This helps you determine next steps such as whether therapy is the right direction.
In summary, counseling usually helps when there is little to no respect between you and your teenager. Also, some parents come to the point where they cannot trust their adolescent child. If that is you, therapy is a good place to start. And, if you suspect your teen’s mental health is a factor in why things aren’t going as well between you as they used to, therapy becomes vital.
Our Hope for You as You Improve Your Relationship with Your Teen
Our hope and prayer for you is that this is a year filled with joy and blessings in your relationships with your children. We pray also that you learn as much from them as they do from you. Yes we want times of teaching and learning, but we also want you and your teen to have fun and joy!
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT