Of all the questions parents ask, THE NUMBER ONE they want to know is:
HOW CAN I DO BETTER AT COMMUNICATING WITH MY TEEN?
It begins by applying the same good communication practices that you use with anyone…friend, sister, neighbor, colleague. Of course, all those are based on respect, something our teens are longing to get from us. Here are several ideas to begin:
- ASSUME THE POSITION – In fast-moving family life, it is so tempting to try to multi-task, to press important conversations into the shortest amount of time. But experiment with “assuming the position” of being a good communicator. Set aside your devices and screens and turn down the volume of what’s attention-distracting. Consider whether your teen might be most comfortable talking side-by-side in the car (on the way home from the store?) or maybe seated on her bed or perhaps raking leaves together outside. Wherever and however makes the most sense, do what it takes to make it clear that you’re available for a conversation…that this connecting isn’t an also-ran, a how-quick-can-we-accomplish-this-so-I-can-get-on-with-what-really-counts kind of interaction.
- Check your voice/check your face – This tip comes from the mom of five teenagers (yup, she’s a hero)! She confesses that for genuine sharing to happen she has to use her former-career social worker trick of controlling her facial expressions and managing her voice. Never raise your voice above, ‘Please pass the salt,’ as someone put it so well. Some years ago a mom whose voice was often quite caustic complained to our coaching group that her daughter was using a very mean voice to her. Ever so gently, group members offered that perhaps the girl was mirroring the mom’s style. So for sure, check your voice, check your face.
- Practice active listening – “Active listening” is intentionally paying close attention to the speaker. It includes NOT planning your reply as the speaker is still talking. It includes body language which conveys your engagement like facing the speaker’s direction. It includes using non-verbal messages that you’re hearing…like nodding or smiling or tilting your head or furrowing your eyebrows if you want clarification. Using minimal encouragers helps your teen know you’d like to hear more like: “Hmmm”. Or “I see…”. Or “Oh yeah…” By not directing with questions, we allow the speaker to determine what he or she will tell next.
These are communication practices we probably use all the time with people outside our families. But when we make the effort to use them with our teens, they can sense our regard for them. It shouldn’t surprise us that they end up actually rising to the occasion. The more consistently we practice, the sooner we might expect to enjoy better connection with conversation.
Which tip would you like to experiment with first?