Once when having a conversation with my teenage exchange daughter and one of her friends, her friend said, “I never tell my mom anything.”
Surprised, I asked her why. “Because of how she’d react. She’d either be mad or sad or cry or think it’s her fault. I just don’t want to go there, especially if it’s something really important to me.”
“Well, thanks for trusting me enough to admit that,” I replied.
“Of course,” she said. “It’s easier to talk to someone who’s not your parent.”
I looked over at my daughter, wondering if she ever felt that way. The expression on her face confirmed that she did. Talk about an a-ha parenting moment!
Your primary job as a parent is to love your teen and prepare them for life, which means that you naturally enforce boundaries. It makes sense that your kids might hesitate to tell you things that they anticipate will get them into trouble. But not telling you something because of fear of how you will react…that’s a different issue. Your teen fears your emotional reaction because she loves you and doesn’t want to disappoint you. She also has something deeply important to share, and she needs that conversation to be about her emotional reaction, not yours.
Here’s what I learned: With a few communication adjustments, you can ensure that your child will feel safer having hard conversations with you.
- Keep a neutral but warm expression on your face. With your nonverbal behavior, try to communicate love and acceptance of your teen, even if what she tells you is concerning.
- Listen until she has completely finished talking. There is nothing worse than trying to communicate something deeply important, only to be interrupted. Do your best to contain your response (even if you are having an emotional reaction). When your teen has finished talking, ensure she is finished by asking a follow-up question. “Is there anything else you want to tell me?”
- Your first response should be affirmation of your love for your child. “I love you so very much. There is nothing you could ever do or say that would change my love for you.”
- Finally, if the situation calls for it, communicate your values or enforce discipline.
As parents our first instinct is to protect and guide our children. It’s okay to offer your opinion if your teen asks for it. If you are unsure if your opinion is wanted, ask her. “This sounds really important to you. Do you want my opinion, or do you just want me to listen?”
It might take some practice, but over time you will begin to see that those hard conversations will meet your teen’s needs for building trust and developing healthy emotional intimacy. She will naturally reach out to you more. And how awesome that you, Mama, helped her develop rock solid skills for her future relationships—whether they be with her friends, her spouse, her work colleagues, or even her own children—in those hard conversations.