Do you notice that you dread spending time with your teenager? Would you rather do almost anything else instead? Tensions often emerge within families once children enter the adolescent stage of development and the process of building a good relationship with your teenager can be a challenging experience.
As the facilitator at MASK, I help parents improve their relationship with their struggling teens and reduce the tension at home. Ruchama Bistritsky Clapman, who is the founder of MASK taught me “when you change the music in your home your children’s dance steps change”.
Outlined below is a list of things parents can do with their children to improve their relationship and increase healthier communication. Through the improved bond that we develop with our children, we can help them come out of this stage with a healthier sense of self and a set of tools they could use for the next stages in their lives.
Spend time doing fun things with your child and get into their world. Too often, we spend too much time disciplining our children and not enough time trying to enjoy them. Find out what their favorite activity is, where they like to hangout, what their favorite food is, what movie and music they like to hear, etc. The more you know how to answer those questions the more you could get involved and share with them some of these things. Please have in mind, that kids need space so it’s important to find the right balance. They will let you know if you are being too intrusive so pay attention to their cues.
Speak respectfully to your child. Children deserve respect just like anyone else. A helpful technique might be to envision your child as your niece, nephew, cousin, or friend’s child. When you view your child in this way, you might feel less emotionally charged and more effective in showing respect towards them.
Don’t attempt to control by using guilt, belittling, criticizing, threatening, punishing, etc. Natural consequences are a great way for kids to develop good coping skills and a higher frustration tolerance. Give them an allowance in order to help them develop independence. It also reduces tension around money issues since it will reduce the power struggle between you and them. It gives them the ability to control how they spend their money and if they did not spend it wisely, the natural consequences can teach them how to budget themselves better the next time. Conversely, allowance should not be withheld as a means to control.
Don’t react right away to negative behaviors; strike when the iron is COLD. If your child did something that made you upset, wait to discuss it when both of you cooled off. If an argument occurred, you could always go back to it when both of you are calmer and discuss it again. Now is a good time to mirror good relationship skills and repair some of the damage the argument produced. Normal relationships have ruptures, the idea is learning how to repair those breaks. Use validation and empathy ie. “I felt really bad that we argued, I really care about our relationship and I don’t like it when we argue.”
Pick and choose your battles. If you are dealing with a child who is struggling with religiosity, constant arguments about going to shul, putting on tefilin, dressing tzniusdik can erode the relationship and is often ineffective in changing the child’s behaviors and attitudes towards a Torah lifestyle. Improving your relationship with your child, can indirectly be much more effective in getting him to lead a Torah lifestyle down the road. By the time your child is an adolescent, he knows exactly where you stand hashkafically so stop trying to convince him to follow in your footsteps. Show your child that you empathize with his or her struggles. It does not mean you agree with what he or she doing, but it means that if you put yourself into his or her shoes, you can understand his struggles a little better. The empathy you show your child can go a long way in strengthening the relationship you have with him or her.
Raising a teenager takes patience, and sometimes the efforts that you put into building a relationship with them are not effective in the way you were hoping to achieve. Don’t forget the ultimate tool of all, and that is Tefilla. We ask Hashem to help us be successful, and we hope that he will respond positively to our Tefillos. We are only human and our job is to do our hishtadlus, the rest is up to Hashem.
Sarah Kahan, LCSW provides psychotherapy to individuals, couples, adolescents and their parents. For further information please contact her at 347-764-9333 firstname.lastname@example.org .