MONTVILLE, NJ - When looking back at your teen years, many of you would say that you wouldn't want to repeat them, or that you were relieved when you moved on to college or a job. Understandably, you want to protect your children from that turmoil, and from what feels like a dangerous world. But they don't talk to you, and don't listen to you, and you worry even more.
"How can I insure that they make good choices?"
"What about homework and test scores and getting into a good college?"
"Other kids can be cruel and I don't want her to go through that."
"I'd really like to lock him up so he can't be tempted by drugs and alcohol."
Your kids are struggling to understand and deal with new and complicated emotions. It is exactly when they can't cope with difficult feelings that they get stuck, and maybe make those poor choices. So how do you help them through it without them becoming defensive and shutting you out?
The authors of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen (Faber & Mazlish) say, "Children let go of negative feelings when they are heard. Once they let go of negative feelings, they are able to think constructively. When you allow your kids to keep talking, they can come up with their own, often workable solutions."
Do you remember when we talked about EQ - Emotional Intelligence? Self-awareness is the ability to recognize emotions as you feel them, and is the number one ingredient of EQ. When kids tune in to their feelings, they can learn to understand and manage them. They will begin this process when they feel they have a safe environment to express themselves.
That sounds wonderful, you say. But how do you let them 'keep talking' when they may not be talking to you at all? You love them and have only their best interest at heart. So why aren't they talking to you and listening to you?
1) They are teenagers. They may not know much, but they believe you know even less, and couldn't possibly understand their life.
2) You want to be needed; however it's their job to need you less. Now is their chance to look outward, explore, become more creative and take some risks. Adults default to what experience has taught them and what usually works. This is a real conflict you experience.
3) You've been there, done that and you know better. Kids sense your worry and need to control, and push back.
4) When they do talk, they feel you're not listening. (They're often right.) How can they tell?
a) You don't let them finish a thought.
b) Your brain is in 'fix-it' mode, looking for solutions.
c) Body language, facial expressions, and not looking directly at them.
d) You may be telling them their feelings are not valid, or they should feel something else.
Can you understand why your kids are reluctant to share with you?
Your first step is to become aware of when you are reacting in any of these ways. If you can catch yourself in the act, you can change the way you react. The goal is to create a climate in which they feel free to express themselves. You don't have to agree with them, just be open to listening. When you listen more, they talk more. When they talk more, they become more self-aware. More self-awareness is the first step to managing their emotions, their choices and their lives. This is the gift that keeps on giving. Tag, you're it.