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Fighting The "Whatever" Blues With Your Child

Eight tips for improving communication with your young adolescent.

Stock Image/Depositphoto
Source: Stock Image/Depositphoto

I remember when my children hit the tween years, that time frame between 10- and 14-years-old, when your children aren't young anymore. They aren't teenagers either. It is often a difficult time for both parent and child as they navigate new roles. Parents typically shift from being the most important person in the child's life to something a little different.

Communication strains between parents and children during this time. Once-answered questions about school and friends are now greeted with a combination of grunts, shrugged shoulders and "whatevers."

Although it may feel like you are losing your children to the influence of pop culture and their friends at this time, it doesn't have to be that way. The following tips can help you improve your communication with your tween, which will also help preserve and enhance your relationship. Even though it does feel like you hold much influence in your ever-changing child's life, you do. Maintaining strong communication is key.

Tips to Improve Communication With Your Tween:

  1. Listen First – Communication starts with listening. Take time to try to hear what your child is communicating through their words and nonverbal cues (body language, tone of voice, etc). Additionally, listen to what your child is NOT saying. Focusing on good listening techniques is the foundation of communication.
  2. Use Reflective Listening and Paraphrasing – oftentimes we supplant our thoughts about what is being said for our child’s actual words. Take the time to clarify your communication by reflecting their words back to them OR paraphrasing what you think you heard prior to responding. This will help ensure that you are correctly hearing what your child is trying to communicate.
  3. Avoid Emotional Hooks – Children are pros at hooking adults, especially their parents, in their emotions. Remain calm throughout the communication exchange in order to prevent getting hooked. No matter what, or how, your child is communicating, stay focused on what he/she is trying to communicate and not the verbal daggers that may be getting thrown your way.
  4. Don’t Take It PersonallyAdolescence is almost synonymous with rolling eyes, shrugging shoulders, and angsty verbiage. Much of what your tween may say to you may sound like a personal attack. It’s important not to take everything personally. It is normal and age-appropriate for your child to pull away from you at this developmental stage. And while it is fine to coach him/her to do it with a bit of finesse, it is important not to get drawn into the drama.
  5. Watch Out For Common Roadblocks – It happens to all of us at some point; we get sucked into a conflict and prevent communication by resorting to some of the common roadblocks, including name-calling, changing the subject and shaming. If you find yourself engaged in any of these it is a sign that you are emotionally hooked. Take a step back and re-engage in the conversation without put up barriers.
  6. Be Wary of Power Plays – part of the reason parents get hooked emotionally by our children is that we are feeling their attempt to exert a little power or control into their lives. This can trigger parents to respond with power plays of their own. Solving your child’s problem without being asked, judging, and threatening are all examples of how parents engage in power plays when communicating with teens
  7. Practice “Unconditional High Regard” – Your child knows how you feel about them. It comes out in your actions, your words, and your behaviors. It is important that the message they receive from you is one of unconditional high regard. This means that no matter what, you love them. Sure, you may have to be a strict disciplinarian from time to time. But it is important that your children know that they are enough in your eyes. No matter what.
  8. Focus On The Relationship – adolescence is a difficult time for both children and parents. Remembering to take time to nurture the relationship is the best way to improve communication throughout this developmental phase.

Use these tips to ensure strong communication with your children - both as they enter the teen years and when they enter adulthood.