by Dr. Erin Watson, The Expert Talk
As a doctor in Family Relations and Human Development and chief expert at The Expert Talk, I hear all the time how parents struggle to connect with their kids.
While the best approaches to parenting are often counterintuitive to our instincts as protectors, building joyful and meaningful connections with the teens and tweens in our lives is possible.
Here are 10 strategies to help you connect with your tween/teen from The Expert Talk you can try right now:
1. REMAIN CURIOUS.
Too often, we focus on regulating our teens (in an effort to protect and guide them), at the expense of truly understanding what they are going through. One of the best ways that we can connect with them is by taking an interest in their journey of self-discovery. Instead of saying, “Here’s what to do”, start by asking “What do you think/feel about that?” or “What was that like for you?
2. BE THEIR STUDENT.
Have you noticed that your tweens and teens act like an expert on a lot of things? Use this to your advantage. Not only is this a way to get your child talking and to understand more about them and their world, it offers them a chance to feel heard, competent and confident. Instead of saying, “You need to reduce your screen time,” try, “Teach me about your favourite influencer! What do you love about following them?”
3. STEP BACK AND GIVE THEM SPACE.
Tweens and teens benefit immensely from being given space to explore how their world (and their choices) affect them and others. Taking a step back as their parent will not only shape their resilience, it will make your presence feel less overwhelming and therefore, make them more likely to come to you for guidance. Instead of saying, “Tell me what’s wrong,” try, “It seems you’re really frustrated right now. I’m here to listen whenever you’re ready to share.”
4. SHARE A (SIMPLE) SECRET.
One of the key psychological tricks to creating a bond with someone is to reveal something vulnerable about yourself. Showing vulnerability through minor embarrassing stories or relatable struggles makes people immediately feel at ease with you and more likely to open up to you in return. Try sharing a secret with your tween. This will help them see you as a person (not just a parent) and as a bonus, may help them feel understood emotionally.
5. GO OLD SCHOOL.
One way to stay close with your tween or teen is to bring back old-fashioned letter writing. Mail it, or slip it under their door, and provide them with nice paper and a pre-stamped envelope so they can respond. Or, simply keep a notebook in which you write messages back and forth to one another. You may be shocked at how much a teen will share when they know you are there to read, rather than react.
6. GET ACTIVE.
Connection doesn’t always have to be about conversation. Getting your tween or teen active is an amazing way to build a bond without the pressure to talk. Whether it’s playing a sport or taking a walk, they will appreciate your interest in simply being with them without conditions.
7. CHANGE YOUR CONVERSATIONAL STYLE.
One effective way to get tweens and teens to open up is to take the pressure off one-on-one exchanges. Instead of asking them a question directly, address an entire group, whether it's your family at the dinner table or when their friends are visiting. Teens are much more likely to share their own thoughts and feelings when they hear the opinions of others they trust.
8. MAKE IT ALL ABOUT THEM.
If we want a harmonious relationship with our kids, we need to separate conversations about their needs and feelings with our own. A teen whose feelings are put first learns that their emotions are real and valid. Not only will this shape them to become well-adjusted adults, it is also the key to ensuring that they will listen when you have something to say that you really need them to hear.
9. GO TO BED ANGRY.
Avoid having difficult conversations close to bedtime, when you’re more likely to feel tired and overwhelmed. Taking time to sleep before addressing certain situations provides you and your child with space to rest and process emotions, rather than taking feelings out on each other. Still, before bed, reassure them that you love them, and that you can talk the next day when you both feel more rested and compassionate.
10. ASK FOR A WISH REQUEST.
Sometimes, we focus so much on helping our kids that we forget to ask them directly what they really need and want from us. To discover what that is, ask them for a wish request. For example: “I’m putting some wishes out to the universe tonight. What is a wish that I could put out for you so that tomorrow is a better day?”
The Expert Talk is a new platform dedicated to offering expert resources to support parents of teens and tweens. Providing access to monthly virtual sessions with subject matter experts, in addition to a portal of exclusive content and resources, this new venture aims to be the go-to support network for parents who simply need help. Webinars, an online community, and weekly coffee breaks are all part of The Expert Talk’s approach.