Having Difficult Conversations With Your Teen
Whether it is a conversation that is difficult to have because it may frighten or sadden your child, or it is difficult because it is going to create conflict, parents are often faced with the conundrum of when, where, and how to have difficult discussions. If you find yourself feeling like no matter what you try it back fires, you are not alone. Talking to a depressed child often leads them to being angry at you. Trying to help a defiant child who does not want help inevitably turns around on you. With teenagers any subject at any time can be a minefield.
Let's start with when and how not to have these discussions. First off, stop having difficult discussions during moments of crisis. For example, when your child finds out his or her latest math test was a failure, or that they were unable to raise their English grade by the end of the semester, this is the worst time to have serious discussions about study habits and their use of their phones instead of studying. I know that the parent in you will be itching to give a lecture and it feels like you are a failure if you pass up this valuable teaching moment, but it most likely will not work. Ask yourself if you are receptive to criticism and feedback when you are in crisis or are feeling fearful and ashamed. Do you do your best listening and accepting when you are most emotional? This will sound crazy, but try a totally different approach. Let them know it's not the end of the world. Tell them you are sorry they are struggling and then let it go for a while. This is counter intuitive to your parent instincts, but oddly enough it will make it far more likely that they make some small changes or at least consider making small changes. The fact is that your child already knew what you were going to say. When their defenses are up and you go another direction you make it more likely that you will bring them closer to you. Now lets talk about the sad, depressed, or emotionally hurt child. Sometimes it is a break up and other times it may be a depression or anxiety that comes out of no where. A parents first instinct is to attempt to give advice and fix. This causes two distinct issues. The first is that if your advice goes awry or is not welcomed you become the target of their emotions. Once they turn their emotions on you it will go from depression and anxiety to anger. The second issue is that when a child is emotional all advice goes in one ear and out the other. During these difficult times focus on listening, saying very little, and expressing your emotions without words. If you have to say something make it about the fact that they are not alone and they are not crazy for feeling the way that they feel. The most ineffective moment to have a discussion with your child is when you have recently given them the message that you are about to give once again. Whether it is because your child disagrees, or they are just being contrary to your nagging and insane conversations, repetitive conversations never go well. The more you say it the less effective your message is in the long run. You will find that initially your messages are ignored, but when you refrain from unhealthy nagging and lectures you are more influential in the long run.
Effective moments to have conversations come more than you may think. The problem is that often parents lecture and nag so much that all moments become ineffective. Talking at the right moment is an art that requires much refrain and practice. The first important sign that it is a good time to discuss something is that your spirit is in the right place. Wait till you are no longer worried, emotional, or angry. Your spirit should be calm and collected. Second make sure that your investment in changing your child right now is not present. When you are in a place of trying to influence your child in the long run rather than needing to convince them now, the conversations go much better. Wait till after dinner or other activities that should be kept fun and should be saved for connecting over positive topics. When you are quiet, your children are more likely to approach you about issues. Wait for them to give you a sign that they are ready to talk. I know the fear is that they won't ever be ready. While this may be true occasionally, it is not the norm. When you do have the difficult conversation remember to listen more than you talk and do not assess the effectiveness of the conversation by how they immediately respond. Your job is to plant seeds and love unconditionally.