Dear Caring Parent,
These 4 smart communication strategies will come in handy because, as we all know, communicating with your late tween and any-age teen will test your parental communication skills. This has forever rung true to parents. We now know it’s because their dramatic physical and psycho-social development causes moods and perspectives to frequently change. (If you want more on that, click here). We also know it’s important to have specific communication strategies when you have teens!
Do you remember your teen years? Not so pretty, maybe? Now, from the parenting side, it’s different!
I’m here to send you a friendly reminder that it IS possible to move through these years and still be engaged with the young adult that emerges. It may be a bumpy road. It will require your patience. You may even wonder, what am I doing? But you will come out the other side of it all.
I picked up a few communication strategies along the way that definitely helped me, so I’m going to pass them along to you.
COMMUNICATION STRATEGIES WHEN YOU HAVE TEENS:
- OREO COOKIE communication. I learned this one from a high school counselor. It’s great for all kinds of communication in which you are giving feedback.
For example, your teen calls, “Mom, I left my paper at home. Can you bring it to school?”
Your regular response is to get frustrated. Which makes sense because it IS frustrating. “Geez, why are you being such a knobhead?” you say. And then you might or might not bring it to them, depending on other variables. No matter whether you bring it or not, you are muttering angrily to yourself and venting your frustration to your teen.
With Oreo Cookie communication, you surround the statement of what you are feeling and/or want with a compliment; compliment, say what you feel/experience/want, compliment. The cookies are the compliments. The filling is what you feel, experience or want. Do double oreos if you need to. Using this phone call as an example:
Compliment – “It’s great that you finished your paper.
What you feel/experience – It’s frustrating that you forgot it, because I’m occupied.
Compliment – I’m glad you are caring about this.
What you want – You’ll have to find a way to get it to the teacher by the end of the day.
Compliment – You’re good at explaining yourself to others.
Serve these up by the bowl! Yet be real about the compliments. Pull on any strength you can think of – maybe they are showing increased independence, or are creative problem solvers, or have way with persuading people.
Communication trap: Don’t expect an immediate “oh, ok Mom”. It’s more likely to be “awh, Mommm, why can’t you just bring it?”
The goal isn’t to instantly mend the original situation or to prevent the moaning and groaning. The goal of communicating with teenagers is to keep the engagement going, build their self-esteem, and move them into increased responsibility for their actions and reactions (by not giving in to every need).
- WONDER ABOUT AROUND. When questioning what’s happening in their life, focus on life around your teen, not your teen directly. I tend to wonder about things in life a lot so was delighted when I stumbled into how well this worked when I used it intentionally with teens.
It’s a great way of finding out about what’s going on without putting the focus on them, which they can resist. For instance, ask, “I wonder . . .”:
- where does tension show up in school?
- how does it work in health class for everyone to talk about things like date rape?
- how do your buddies/girlfriends deal with social media anger?
- who tends to say the most about _____ (current drug of interest, dating, gaming etc)?
- which coach is the most popular? Why?
- what do your classmates say about date rape?
- what’s the talk about texting and driving these days?
- why people say boys don’t have feelings when they break up with a girl?
This communication strategy basically takes who-what-where-when-why -how and focuses it around your teen and not on your tween/teen. You might not get the whole truth, but your sons and daughters will definitely talk more if you don’t fall into the communication trap noted below.
You can then always ask additional questions like ‘’I wonder what you think?’’, ‘’I wonder what that was that like for you?’’, or ‘’I wonder, was that boring or exciting for you?’’ If your teenager shuts down when you bring this closer to being about them, return to the wonder around them.
Notice also how saying “I wonder” out loud puts YOU in a more open state of mind. Which in turn allows you to hear their response without blowing your cool by falling into judgmental, frustrated, maybe even insulting communication.
Communication trap: Getting all snarky when they give you their answers. Because key to ALL of these communication strategies is remaining non-judgmental when hearing what you hear. Remember your goal is to know what is going on and how your son and daughter are doing with all of it.
- COMPLIMENT THEIR STRENGTHS and enthusiasms. Highlighting someone’s strength is a great communication strategy . I once coached a person out of their job they were doing poorly at by highlighting their strengths and how their current work environment didn’t allow them to use those strengths. If it works for terminating someone’s employment, it works for teens.
Teens are thirsty for their strengths to be noticed. It’s important for developing their self-esteem and solid, independent problem solving.
For instance, your teen daughter says, “Dad, do you like my makeup?”
You don’t? Can you imagine if you say “not so much”? Instead, pull out the positive in your response. “I like that you are caring about how you look.” When she says, “daaaad, that’s not what I asked” you can let her know you think she looks great without makeup too, but you’re glad she’s having a good time with it.
You can also revert to communication strategy #2, wondering “what’s all the rage with makeup in school these days?” You’ll likely get more than you want to know! You’ll get a gem in there though, allowing you to call out a strength. It might, for example, include that she doesn’t give a rip and wants to be different. Then you can use that – “it’s cool to stand out in the crowd, good for you for being so bold”.
Communication Trap: Drop the tendency to add a downer comment like “too bad you don’t care so much about your grades as you do makeup”. Or “all the wrong boys will be attracted to you.” Drop it. Drop it. Drop it. Do you think you are going to get somewhere with that? Remember, you goal with all of these strategies is to keep communication flowing, even to open it up more.
- Get ready to TALK OPENLY ABOUT SEXUALITY – it’s about non-physical intimacy too, sex, gender identification, and self-esteem. Your teenager is hearing a LOT about this topic in a very limited way. They need your support. Read more here, but I wanted to touch on this now because it is soooo important.
Communication trap: Over informing or, avoiding it all together. Let their questions or behaviors guide you, do it in bits and pieces, ‘wonder about’ a lot. Remember, you don’t have to know all the answers; it’s a dialogue.
THE BIG QUESTION ABOUT COMMUNICATION STRATEGIES WHEN YOU HAVE TEENS :
So what happens if your teenager is indeed presenting something to you that is not negotiable?
If it’s a flat out ‘no’, you can still say no, explain what they CAN do, and within the anger that will likely occur, use these strategies identified above.
COMMUNICATION GOAL WHEN YOU HAVE TEENS:
Will any one of these or all of these make your teens stop being crazy making? Probably not. But remember, as is said above, the goal is to keep engaged with them. And to be leaving as many positive and loving thoughts in the wake of all the ups and downs as possible. It will help keep you and them in tact through some developmentally challenging (for some VERY challenging) years.
Be BOLD! Try one of these that you haven’t utilized. After all, teenage life is a call to all parents to be lovingly bold! If you are struggling with your teen, there are more useful ideas in a book that I keep close at hand, The Relational Book of Parenting by spouses Mark Greene and Dr. Saliha Bava. You can even invite your teen to check out the comic strips in it that explain communication in a very relatable way, exclamation points and all!
Take care now, Natasha
p.s. If you are struggling with something and would like to talk it through with a different set of ears, contact me at ns@OMGparenting.com and we can set up a time to talk it through. For first time users, the first half hour is free and it’s $30.00/half hour increments after that.