Characteristics that we commonly see in children of this age include: novelty seeking, being easily bored, pushing the boundaries and testing the limits, as well as a need for more sleep as brains and bodies grow quickly! Social engagement with their friends is paramount, and we also see emotional intensity which includes moodiness as well as exuberance and vitality. Teens can have highly creative minds, out of the box thinking, and unique ways of looking at the world and problems, which is a positive thing when we are wanting to include them in decisions about consequences for their mis-behaviours!
We, of course, want our teens to start learning to use adult logic, but for their longer-term development we also want them to start using their emotions intelligently.
As our teenage children pull away from us and start to individuate, we need to stay connected to them. They stop looking at parents as the managers of their life and see them as more of a consultant they can bounce ideas off. If we don’t get it right, however, they will fire us from the job.
Ideas for learning to parent effectively with your teenager include:
- As good emotion coaches we accept our teen’s emotions, whether they be moody, angry, devastated or excited. We don’t want to criticise their emotions or belittle them or dismiss them as this will shut our child down and make them not want to talk to us.
- Even if you can’t accept or approve of your teen’s latest look, emphasise that you accept and approve of him or her as a person. This is a time of experimentation when your child is starting to figure out who he or she is, so the purple hair or ripped jeans may not be to your taste, but it’s a phase we all go through. Don’t try to emulate their latest look or behaviour to be cool by the way, it doesn’t allow your teen to individuate and will likely not make them feel closer to you!
- Allow your teen to make unwise decisions but not unsafe ones. So, not managing their schedule well is something they need to learn from but jumping off the bridge with their friends is not okay.
- Review the things you focus on all the time such as how they clean up their room or how badly they eat, as you can become a nag they just want to block out. Also try not to pick on your teen’s character; if your kid isn’t sporty or musical like you then don’t push it, accept who your child is becoming, even if it is a different person to the vision you had for him or her.
- Know that while whining is annoying in a child, it is often about the child either wanting help with something or not understanding the emotions they are feeling.
- Flipping your lid – losing it with your kid can happen to all of us, when we flood with many emotions all at once such as anger, fear and frustration. When this happens, all our rational and problem-solving skills are gone, in fact we can’t even hear properly. We must step back at this point and calm down; we have to demonstrate that we are capable of self-soothing so we can teach our kid this valuable skill when they need it. Then once we are calm, we need to repair what has happened. To do this you need to apologise to your child and then each of you needs to listen to the other’s perspective and problem solve together.
The steps of emotion coaching our teens are:
- Be aware of your child’s emotions, tune in to what it is they are feeling by looking at their face and body language. Be aware of your own emotions too as you want to be calm when you open a discussion.
- Use this as an opportunity to connect, so if there is a need for a discussion you might start by offering some reassurance or a hug and inviting them to talk.
- Label the emotions so your child can understand what they are feeling. Help them begin to tune into their body and see that you are understanding, e.g., “You seem frustrated” or “I can see you feel really bad.”
- Display empathy and understanding. Sometimes to understand we need to ask open ended questions, such as “Tell me what is going on for you?” or “Describe to me what it was like to make that decision?”. You need to step into your child’s shoes and remember how you felt at that age rather than looking at things from your adult standpoint. Tell them you understand their perspective, even if you don’t agree with it.
- Set limits. If there is a misbehaviour there will need to be a consequence, so the child learns about responsibility. This is a problem-solving exercise, so the consequence should be logical, not “you will never drive the car again” or “you will clean out the cat litter for the next month”. Involve your child in problem solving how they will learn from this experience in an effective way, what does he or she think would be an appropriate way of dealing with this in terms of a consequence? For example, if your son damages the car, maybe he could not only be limited in when and where he can drive, but he could take a part time job in addition to doing some voluntary tasks in the community to work off his debt to you. This teaches him responsibility and gives him time for reflection.
Being a teenager is a tough time in human development, but with a shift in our parenting techniques we can launch emotionally intelligent young people into their adult lives and keep a close relationship with each other after our baby has left home.