In past blogs, I have shared several excerpts from my memoir that I’m writing, titled Digesting Life. The story of my struggle and recovery from an eating disorder is the basis for what led me to create the KARMA Method, the signature coaching and therapeutic method used by Bespoke Wellness Partners. My hope is that maybe some of these stories will resonate with you or make you more aware of where you are on your specific journey with whatever struggles you may be facing. Today’s blog was inspired by my work with parents over the past couple of decades.
Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with many parents of teens to help guide them during challenging times. Many parents, especially during Covid, are experiencing a lot of stresses that are indirectly or directly connected to their teens and they don’t have the skills necessary to deal with these challenges. They experience a lot of negative thoughts and feelings related to their relationship with their children, which prevent them from establishing a trusting bond. As parents or caregivers, we are not equipped to deal with the challenges that come with parenting teens. These skills will help you create a safe and trusting environment where you are connecting with your teen and, in turn, establish a more loving and positive home for your family.
- Active Listening: Be aware of your thoughts and feelings.
This is the most important skill, and it is the basis of any relationship. Most of us don’t invest the time to reflect on our thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental way with a specific intention. In order to be present and attend to your teen, you have to be able to listen to yourself and be aware of what it is that’s happening to you when you are paying attention to your thoughts. Take a minute now to stand in front of the mirror and practice active listening. Think about your last interaction with your child and reflect on how that interaction affected you. Write down with as many details as possible what happened and include your related thoughts and feelings. Are you able to do that? If not, why? What is happening to your body? This is extremely important because when you communicate with your child, it is important that you are attuned with yourself first so that you can actively listen to your child.
Active listening is crucial because you want to provide your child the space to express themselves in a safe and non-judgmental space. Once this is created, your child will be able to be more open and honest with you without fearing any judgment, criticism, or any other negative association. For example, if your child shares about an interaction that they had with another child where they were clearly in the wrong, instead of lecturing your child or passing judgment, you want to be curious about what happened and ask as many questions as you can. This doesn’t mean that you can’t share your thoughts and feelings, but it does mean that you should FIRST listen and bring your child to a place where they know that they can come to you with anything.
- Move from a reactive to a responsive mode.
Now that you know how to listen to yourself and your child, you will be able to transition from a reactive mode to a more curious responsive mode. This is clearly a very challenging thing for most parents to do, especially if this wasn’t modeled to you as a child, but if you want to have a positive relationship with your child, this is an important thing to learn. I will make it simple for you so that you can take specific actions towards becoming more responsive. It is important that you understand that your tendency to react is natural and instinctive, but it will not serve you well with your communication with your child. In order to achieve the responsive mode, you FIRST should count to 3 backwards (3-2-1), take a deep breath, and ask your child a question, with genuine curiosity for what they are telling you.
- Validate your child.
This is one of the most challenging things for parents to do, and it is not because you are not a smart parent or because you are a bad parent. Simply, as parents, you often never learn how to listen or validate, which is primarily because we love our children, and our initial instinct is to try to save them or fix the problem. The word validation can be confusing for some, but I like to simplify it with this poignant example conversation:
Your child: Mom, I am not going to eat today because I feel fat when everyone in my class is skinny.
Parent: What are you talking about? You are beautiful and you have to eat and there is no way that all your friends are skinny. Jenn for sure weighs more than you…(*This is invalidating to your child and you are now viewed as someone who doesn’t connect or understand them.)
Now, below is how you can validate your child, and using similar words will work for a variety of situations. I know that at first this might sound like it is fake or forced, but trust me, this works but it takes some getting used to…
You child: Mom, I am not eating today and tomorrow because I feel so fat.
Parent: (First, park your thoughts and feelings for a few seconds and then respond…) I hear you saying that you are not eating today and tomorrow because you feel fat. Did I get it right? (Wait to hear your child’s response. Then be curious.)
Parent: It makes sense that you would not want to eat if when you compare yourself to your friends you feel fat.
- Reflect, validate, and show compassion.
Now that you know how to validate your child, you can take the next step and show compassion. This is taken from the Imago dialogue concept, which is a brilliant way of encouraging your Imago dialogue to slow down and focus on the other person. Sure, that is not easy, but I promise that you can do it with practice and faith.
Let’s continue with the example from above.
Child: I don’t want to eat anything because I feel fat…I hate my life.
Parent: (3-2-1, be aware of your thoughts and park them. Then…)
Reflect: I hear you saying that you don’t want to eat because you feel fat and that you hate your life. Is this right?
Teen: Yes, these thoughts are constantly racing in my mind, and they drive me crazy.
Parent: Validate: It makes sense that you would think that because it sounds like you don’t like the way that you look.
Teen: I feel terrible all the time.
Compassion: I understand why you feel this because you have thoughts that are negative and it makes sense that you would feel terrible.
It’s important to remember that when using the Imago dialogue, you will be able to express your thoughts and feelings but only after you create a safe and trusting environment.
- Don’t take things personally.
I often hear parents tell themselves a different/skewed version of a story after their teen acted disrespectfully. For example, let’s assume that you walked into your teen’s room asking about their day while they are on their computer. Your teen responds with an attitude and asks you to close the door behind you…
When your child asks you to close the door it’s not because you are a bad parent but because your teen needs some space.
- Get down on your teen’s level.
This one can be tough, but I have several suggestions for how you can relate to your teen from a place that feels like a more level playing field:
-Ask about their friends and share stories about your teenage years and your friends.
-Set up “special time”–no phone/be curious (examples of questions to ask your teen: What shows are you into these days? What do you like about that show? What is your biggest fear? What do you think about me as a parent? Is there anything that I am doing that you want me to do less of? More of?)
– Speak their language by saying something like, “I know that I am old and outdated but I was also a teen and I wish that I was open and honest with my parents about things that bothered me that they did.” (It helps to give an example.)
-Respect their privacy.
-Read books that your teen loves and listen to their favorite songs.
-Use your own experience.
-If you mess up with your teen, make sure to correct it by acknowledging what happened and taking responsibility. For example, if you were stressed because of work and yelled at your child when they asked a question, apologize, and make sure your teen doesn’t take it personally.
-Recognize your own self-talk.
-Notice red flags like isolation/any changes of behavior.
Limor Weinstein, MA. LMHC.,FAED
Founder & Executive Director
Bespoke Wellness Partners