As your child morphs from a child, to a tween, and into a full-blown teenager, you may begin to notice how little s/he seems to want to do with you. While it is developmentally appropriate for adolescents to pull away, most experts agree that teens tend to better if they maintain a bond with their parents. So how do you connect with your teenager, who seems like they want nothing to do with you? It’s not easy, and the relationship with definitely change, but there are some ways to keep the bond.
Remember you’re still important (even if it doesn’t feel like it right now)
It’s tough to feel rejected by your kid. But try to remember your teenager is going through a natural developmental process, that involves separating from you at times and getting his/her emotional needs met elsewhere. This doesn’t mean you are worthless or have done a bad job at parenting. The more you can remember this, the easier it will be to avoid lashing out at your teenager, which will do nothing but hurt, rather than maintain the bond that is so important to you. Remember you are still so important (even if you’re feeling kicked to the curb for the moment).
Get to know what’s important to them
This includes the stuff you think is important as well as the stuff that you think is silly or irrelevant. Whether or not it’s actually “important” doesn’t matter. This is about connecting with them even if you couldn’t care less about one direction or twenty-one pilots, or whatever they are into. We bond over shared interests and activities and if your kid is allowing you in to see what’s important, take them up on it. If it’s important to your kid, try your best to get authentically interested.
Start tough conversations with “I love you”
Start with a genuine, no strings attached, “I love you.” Make sure they know that no matter what they do, whether they end up being the next world peace prize winner OR screw up royally, you will always love them the same. Regardless of how this conversation goes or if they make a choice you don’t agree with, your love will never change. You don’t want them thinking you only love them and approve of them when they are doing well because then they may not let you know when they aren’t. And you want to know.
Validate their feelings (even if you don’t agree with them)
Your kid may be super upset, excited, or scared, for a reasons you cannot begin to wrap your head. They may seem very illogical in their emotional responses at times, but remember to respect and acknowledge their feelings. If you don’t understand them, try to remain curious and accepting, rather than questioning or judgmental. Teens won’t want to share their feelings with you if they sense their feelings are not accepted or are off-putting in some way. And if you want to stay close to your kids, you don’t want to shut down their emotions.
Become comfortable “sitting” in their pain
When our kid is upset, it can make you feel pretty bummed too. It’s natural to want to talk them out of their upset feelings because you think it will help them (and you) feel better. But generally, it won’t. How often have you felt better after someone told you not to feel a certain way? Slim to none I’m guessing, so why would it be any different for your kid? We often want to either run away from pain or shut it down as quickly as possible. But with pain, running away from it is not the answer and it’s not always possible to just put it out. Your kid needs you to dive into the pain with them. Doing this can help your child feel understood and like their pain makes sense, which can be a very healing experience, and will ultimately help them come to you more often when they are hurting.
Check yourself for hidden judgement
Parents can be really good at hiding judgement with concern. Yes, you are concerned about your kid, but are you communicating it in a way that is coming off as judgmental? Teenagers are often sensitive to criticism and judgement because they are naturally not totally confident in themselves and their choices. So as parents we need to be very careful we are communicating our concern in respectful, loving (rather than judgmental/critical) ways.