Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Teen Parenting Series Topic Five - When the Best Communication Strategy is to Be Quiet

People often forget that listening is the "other half" of communicating. Sometimes you are saying the most, when you aren't saying anything at all; you are simply listening. Often, when given time, a teen will suddenly remember they do know how to speak, and they do have something to say.... even to you, their parent! By simply listening to what they have to say you are telling your teen, that you care enough to let them get it all out, to let them say what is on their mind; even when whats on their mind, takes a few minutes to surface, form words, accumulate volume and be articulated to you, their parent. There will be times that this sudden use of words to express how they feel will arrive at inopportune moments. You will need to do your best to squelch that feeling and be there to listen to your child. Sincerely listen. Implement A.L.T.U strategy if needed to help you keep your focus on your teen, and what they are saying. (Actively Listening To Understand - not just hear them, but LISTEN to them). An example could be when your child hops in the car as you pick them up from a friends house. The parent that immediately starts in with a string of (innocently enough asked) questions, is only rewarded with a few grunts meaning yea, and shoulder shrugs indicating I don't know, and wild eye movements - indicating OMG NO, will be wildly dissappointed with the mono-syballic "conversation" she has with her teen. Contrastly the parent that may quietly offer a "hey kiddo" as their teen jumps in, given some time, will likely be rewarded with a bone of knowledge - something that occured at their friends house, or something someone said to them on the bus that day. The key here is creating a successful enviornment. To open up, most teens need to feel safe and free from judgement, intended or not. Creating a buffer of silence between arriving in car with parent, and when they decide to open up a bit and possibly even share about their day is key! This way your child feels that they are deciding to communicate to you on their terms. They will then feel more in control of the conversation and offering information about their life, versus the feeling that you are expecting them to fill in the gaps and all the missing pieces to the puzzle of their life. Your teen will feel empowered by having the choice to communicate to you, instead of being defensive due to the overwhelming feeling of your being too demanding in wanting them to communicate. Put anyone on the defense, and they usually push back and/or lash out. Empowered by the feeling of talking on their terms, the teen may offer more than you ever would have pulled out of her regarding the latest break up or conflict in her life, or ......(fill in the blanks appropriate to your child!). Carpool is another prime opportunity to be quiet! You will learn more about your child's day through the interactions of your child and their peers. With time, if you are very good at mastering being invisible, your child will forget that you are in the car, and they will open up to their friends. This way, if down the road you ask about that one girl and the hard time they were having together, you won't see her physically "shutting you out" or looking at you like you were crazy, you know nothing about this, so why would I even begin to share with you look. Because they will know you were in the car, and that they did talk about Susie Q that day in the car, with this in mind, you will probably get that look of, well, ya know that Susie Q and all she has done, well..... and the conversation flows as long as the teen is comfortable sharing. Remember kids don't really want you to be their "best friend," heck, sometimes they don't even want you to be their sounding board. It's our job as parents to gauge what they really need from us in each specific moment, as it will change day to day. So they don't need you to feel in the silence gaps with mommie (or daddie) jibber jabber. They need to feel comfortable with who they are and who they are with in order to communicate to others what they are really "feeling." From my perspective, there are times when the ages old adage is absolutely correct, "Silence is Golden." Those who are actively listening to understand their children will come away alot more richer than those who simply hear their kids "talking." Have you talked to your kid today? Seriously - talked? Not chatted, not hows your day wrap up summary to the daily family show, to be aired same time, same place tomorrow, but truly talked to them, and listened to what they had to say to you? Teen talk tip today? Don't always try to fill in the awkward silence, it could be the catalyst to your teen opening up a little to you.

No comments: