As a parent, your words have power, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Learning effective communication is key to breathing new life into any relationship, and your relationship with your teen is no different. Incorporate these tips into your everyday conversations with your child and see the difference just a few changes can make.
Use “I” Statements
When sharing how you feel about something, your phrasing can change the game. To demonstrate, notice your reaction to these two statements:
You make me so angry, you never clean your room! You’re so lazy.
I feel angry when you don’t clean your room because it seems like you don’t care about our home. I need you to follow my instructions and clean your room.
Both are communicating a direct message, but one does so with accusation, and the other does so with explanation. The second example using an “I-statement” shows that you are taking responsibility for your own feelings in the situation, while also explaining why you feel that way and what you need from the other person. This provides much more clarity, and in communication, clarity is kindness. Doing this can even avoid the defensive attack that “You” statements often bring about.
Use this format for easy practice:
“I feel _____ when _____ because ________. I need/want ____________.”
Avoid “Never” and “Always”
“Never” and “always” are frequently thrown in for emphasis when expressing frustration with others.
“You are always late to school!”
“You never take the trash out!”
This language presents a few issues. First, it is rarely accurate. Most things exist with exceptions. The second, and more important, is that it sets the other person up to launch a defensive maneuver instead of hearing what you mean to say. Your teen might respond with “I took the trash out last week!” or “I was on time yesterday!” They are hearing the accusation instead of your message, and it makes it difficult to continue a productive conversation after someone is on the defensive.
Try “often” or “rarely”, or just stick with the present. “You were late to school today. That’s not okay. Let’s work on that tomorrow.” This can even be encouraging to your teen to see that you do notice the times that they do the right thing. Even if it was just that once. Reinforce those good choices by acknowledging them with your language and avoid undercutting your own argument with exaggerations. It’s “rarely” a mistake to be intentional with words!
Reflect with “It sounds like…”
When your teen presents you with information, especially emotional information, it can be natural to jump in with solutions or questions. However, this often leaves them feeling unheard or invalidated. An easy way to help your child feel understood is to reflect back what you heard before you offer your input. This is a skill therapists practice often, and it’s the secret-sauce to “active listening.”
“It sounds like you feel betrayed.”
“It sounds like you had a stressful day.”
A simple reflection of what your teen communicating or what they are feeling can foster a positive moment of connection between you and your child. It can also help them feel less alone in their struggles. Have someone try it with you and see how warm and fuzzy you feel when someone truly listens and shows they understand.
If you are interested in learning more about effective communication, family counseling, or counseling for your teen, follow the link to make an appointment with a Living Well therapist today.