The first word that comes to mind is respect, though not in the direction you may suspect. You must show your teenager respect. It’s so easy to get into a ding dong with pre-teens (and teens) and create rifts in relationships that, in my therapeutic experience, only gets deeper. I receive regular phone calls from exhausted parents asking me to work with their tween/teenager. They often go a bit like this: “They show me no respect and make me feel like I can’t say or do anything right. They are making me feel bad about myself.”
It’s so important to remember that your children are under no obligation towards you. They have no obligation to like you, respect you or be kind to you. They will, if you’ve created a safe and trusting relationship with them during the previous 10 or so years of their life. Parents must take responsibility for how they feel, and until we do, we can’t expect children to do the same. Children learn their emotional responses from their parents, so you must lead with a gentle curiosity about what’s going on if they are letting you know that life is hard. You can’t do this unless you can turn inwards to yourself first.
When I sit with a tween/teenager – excluding issues of suicide or self-harm – what I am really showing them is total respect, empathy, time and compassion. You can begin to foster all of these with your child at any age so that when these difficult years come, the foundation of your relationship is already there. I don’t have all the answers, but I am prepared to sit with them and tune into who they are until we figure out a constructive way forward together.
I’d really recommend all parents read Brainstorm by Dan Siegal, as it explains the brain function and emotional capabilities of this age group clearly. At this teenage stage, the brain is developing at an enormous pace. Taking risks is part of the brain’s development. It’s so important that you create a safe space and foster a respectful relationship through which this can happen. Remember, your tween/teenager is looking for you to understand them and make their world safe. This happens in so many ways, including with words, tone, behaviours, strong but flexible boundaries and the relationship you have with them.
If anything in this blog resonates with you and you’d like support to create change, you’re welcome to book a free call with Bethan here to explore your support options. Make sure you download your free 5 Steps to Calmer Parenting. If you’re looking for immediate parenting support, you can start your free 7 day trial in the Calm Parenting Club where you’ll find the answers to your parenting problems and be supported to become the parent and person’ you’d like to be.