Here are some practical ideas to keep the bridges of communication open between you and your teen.
· You can never be too loving with your teenage children.
Get rid of that old wives’ tale that hugging them, holding them, or telling them you love them is spoiling your children. If many of the parents of the world paid more attention to their children, the world would be a better and happier place.
I can think of many children who suffered because their parents were too busy, too selfish, or too preoccupied to spend time with them. I have never met a child who was worse off because their parents loved them too much. That situation’s just not possible.
But be more sensitive to how you show your affection when your child has turned into a self conscious teenager – a friendly pat on the back, or gently ruffling their hair is often more appropriate once they have hit the hormone zone!
· Act as a Role Model
Have you ever noticed that you have many of the same attitudes, habits, and opinions that your parents had when you were growing up and even though you swore you’d do it all differently? Well, that’s because your parents were your first, important role models, and you are now the same to your children.
Imitating parents is a natural part of how children develop and grow. Perhaps you’re not aware of the subtle messages you send to your teen all the time, particularly as they pretend not to notice now they are maturing, but all your actions and emotions are communicated to your kids. That’s why anxious parents produce anxious children and positive parents bring up confident kids!
· Involve Yourself in Your Child’s Life
One of the most important things you can do to safeguard your relationship is to spend time with them. None of us ever feels we “have enough time” to do the things we have to do much less the ones we’d like to do! But strong family ties are formed between teenage children and their parents if a little regular daily effort is made to spend time talking, eating and being with them. So ask yourself how you can enhance the quality of the time you spend with your teenage children?
Even teenage children with their own friends, lifestyle and interests should be absolutely sure that they can count on your time with them. Set aside time when you can give your full attention to your teen. Could it be at family dinner time, homework help time, or once-a-week outings? And each of your children needs some time to spend with you alone, apart from brothers and sisters.
· Share yourselves.
The whole point of spending time with your children is to share your own values, beliefs and enjoy being with them. Talking with and listening to your teen is one of the most important “quality time” activities you can do and it can happen anywhere, at any time—while folding the laundry, playing a game, doing the shopping, or driving home from Grandma’s house.
· Focus on Flexibility
Your role as a parent changes as your child grows. What worked well when your child was in nursery doesn’t necessarily work when she reaches junior school and is likely to outright fail when she enters adolescence.
The drive and independence that makes your three-year-old say ‘no’ all the time is actually part of the same process that makes your 13-year-old daughter argumentative at the dinner table. It is also what makes her more inquisitive in the classroom and even later on in her career.
So embrace the wider implications of your child’s actions. Parental flexibility is all about getting inside the mind of your child at their particular age.
· Set Boundaries and Rules
The two most important things children of all ages need from you are love and structure.
Some of the parents I work with don’t want to repeat the strict upbringing that they experienced, so they go the other way and have no rules or boundaries at all. They then wonder why their children don’t listen to or respect them or why they feel so exhausted all the time.
Even teenage children enjoy routine and knowing your rules. Like everything in life, providing your child with structure is a balancing act. Structure makes children feel the security of love around them. If your child feels insecure, they may fall in with the wrong crowd, try drugs to give them confidence or look for people interested and willing to spend time with them that may not have their best interest at heart.
Remember the real reason for having rules and setting boundaries is that over time your teenager can develop the ability to set their own boundaries and manage their own behaviour. You need to realise that your child’s ability to be controlled by you leads to their ability to control themselves.
· Be Consistent
The biggest single contributor to a teenager’s disciplinary problems is inconsistent parenting. I know you’re probably thinking, ‘Well, being consistent is easy to say, but hard to do’. True enough. But the secret of consistency is keeping your expectations clear and always meeting the same behaviour with the same reaction.
If you’re having trouble disciplining your teenager, the first thing to do is take a step back and ask yourself, ‘Am I being consistent?’
Parents have many reasons for becoming inconsistent, but stress and tiredness seem to be the most common. In today’s hectic and frenetic world, everyone gets tired. When you feel like giving in or that you don’t have the energy to take on the battle or argument, you can easily get distracted or lose your focus.
So take control of your time by the three “D’s” –
1. Deciding what you want to achieve each day and by setting yourself just one or two goals that you really want (not need) to accomplish.
2. Discarding any tasks or jobs that aren’t really important in the big scheme of life and
3. Delegating tasks that other people or your kids could do.
This frees up your energy and helps you to stay focused and consistent with your kids
· Encourage Independence
From the day you play ‘peek-a-boo’ with your baby, you’re preparing her for separation from you. From her first day at school, first sleepover, and first school trip to France to the day your daughter leaves home. Good parenting is a step-by-step process, a gradual moving out into the big world, confident and independent from you.
You tread a fine line: Good parenting requires a balance between involvement and independence. Your teenage child learns self-confidence from learning to manage their own self-sufficiency.
Parents, who encourage independence in their children, help them to develop a sense of self-direction. To be successful in life, children need both self-control and self-direction. They also need self-discipline to balance their own individual needs with the needs of others.
· Be Firm and Fair in Your Discipline
At each stage of your child’s development, you must establish your rules that you expect your child to obey. But you also need to expect that your child will at some point challenge you and test your limits. This behaviour’s just what kids do.
Your job is to do what’s best for your child, whether they like it or not. You are the adult; you are the more experienced, wiser person who can see the bigger picture. So don’t let your 14-year-old refuse to change her smelly shirt after a netball match because she gets all huffy and won’t speak to you for a couple of hours.
Don’t let your teenager get away with not emptying the dishwasher because you can’t bear her sulky behaviour as she does it.
Remember you are teaching life skills and helping to develop a well rounded, helpful, self reliant adult for the future and if it helps….this phase doesn’t last for ever!
Your child’s judgement isn’t as good as yours. You are building an adult and tomorrow’s future generation so stand your ground.
· Listen First, Talk Later
Listening is the best gift you can give anyone including your kids.
Listening makes teenagers feel valued, heard, and understood. It makes them feel important.
Through listening properly to your children, you help them find their own answers. They also let off steam. You may even get to ask the odd great question and your child may start to see things from a different perspective.
So turn down the TV, stop reading the paper, and stop peeling the potatoes. Look at your teenager and give them your full attention.
Listen with genuine interest and really pay attention to what they’re telling you. Keep an open mind and don’t judge or interrupt them. You know how frustrating it is when your friend or partner interrupts you, half listens, or just says ‘aaahh haaa’ now and again. Your kids deserve better.
I think it helps to remember that you have two ears and only one mouth for a reason!
· Respect Your Child
Your relationship with your child is the foundation of their relationships with others. If you treat your child with compassion, kindness, and respect, they’ll grow up to be concerned about others, caring, considerate, and respectful towards people.
If you are uncaring, rude, and dismissive, your child is very likely to have these characteristic when they grown up.
Respect is the key to a good family and it brings everyone together. Families don’t die from their setbacks, but they can wither and die from a negative, sarcastic, taunting, or guilt-ridden culture within them.
As obvious as this sounds, speak politely to your child and respect their opinion. Pay real attention when they speak to you and treat them kindly and remember, your children may choose your old people’s home one day !!!
· What small changes can I make this week to move me closer to my teenager?
· How can I show them my love in new more grown up ways?
· How can I listen to them more effectively this week?
· What would be the benefits to me, out relationship and to the family as a whole if I committed to these small changes?
· How can I manage my time more effectively this week?
· How can I be clear about setting firm, fair, specific and negotiated boundaries this week that are flexible but consistent for everyone?
· What will be the advantages of taking this action this week?
· When I hit an obstacle what can I do to get round it, through it or over it to keep moving towards the bigger picture to my parenting?
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About the author
Sue Atkins is a Parenting Expert who offers practical guidance for bringing up happy, confident, well behaved children. She is also the author of “Raising Happy Children for Dummies” one in the famous black and yellow series published worldwide and the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs. She regularly appears on BBC Breakfast and The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and her parenting articles are published all over the world.
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Sue Atkins the Parenting Expert
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