Communication is the biggest source of complaint in any organisation and in our families, especially with those of us with teens and tweens, effective communication can be a challenge!

I’ve recently had the privilege of speaking to parents at St George’s School in Harpenden; delivering training to boarding school staff and speaking to parents and teachers at the Happy Children’s conference, sharing some thoughts about how to communicate better with your children or teenagers. 

What our children really want

I asked the children I work with what they wanted from their parents. The younger ones said  more love, time and care. This wasn’t the response I was expecting- I definitely expected the response to involve more tech! Despite our efforts to ensure our children have so many opportunities to do and have so much, what they really want is for us to slow down and spend time talking to them.

The 14 year olds’ responses were slightly different: they want less anger, less conflict and more trust. The teenage years are so challenging because teen brains are changing quickly. The pre-frontal cortex responsible for planning, prioritising and controlling impulses is still developing. Teens want to be treated like adults but their behaviour doesn’t always reflect that and so conflict occurs. So in the midst of the madness we need to model the communication skills we want to see.

How we interact

Transactional Analysis helps us to understand the ego states we all inhabit and how each interaction is a transaction. We can start to recognise which ego state our interaction starts from (adult/ parent or child) and therefore raise our awareness of how our children respond to us for example the question “What’s the time please?” could be met with the adult response “It’s four o’clock” or the critical parent response “You’re always late.” This is a fascinating and complex area- to learn more see Eric Berne’s book The Games People Play. The key message I shared here is that we always have a choice how we respond and if we can train ourselves to stop and press the pause button we can modify our responses to reduce conflict. 

Reducing conflict

Obviously conflict is a real challenge in parent/teen interaction. It’s part of the deal and an important stage that teens go through in finding their identify and redefining the parent/ teen relationship.

Some ways to reduce conflict are:

1 Teaching every member of the family that they can choose their reaction- take a physical step back, take a deep breath and press the pause button. 

“In the space between stimulus (what happens) and how we respond, lies our freedom to choose. Ultimately, this power to choose is what defines us as human beings. We may have limited choices but we can always choose. We can choose our thoughts, emotions, moods, our words, our actions; we can choose our values and live by principles. It is the choice of acting or being acted upon.”Stephen R. Covey

2 Rules Praise Ignore. Possibly the most useful thing I’ve learned in 18 years of teaching,(from Bill Rogers’ work on behaviour management). Establish the RULES and don’t be afraid to introduce a new rule; PRAISE the behaviour you want to see more of; and this is the tricky bit- IGNORE the secondary behaviour. This is really hard because our ego is against us here. If you ask a kid to put their phone away and they don’t want to they will eventually do it but it will be accompanied by eye rolling, huffing, muttering etc. The key is to focus on the main issue and let the secondary behaviour go. Otherwise you get embroiled in conflict about the secondary behaviour which takes the focus away from the main issue: the phone. This is hard and only this week I found myself telling someone off for eye rolling- I am still working on this!

3 Assertive communication. This language is taught to victims of domestic abuse because it works:

I notice that… Describe the behaviour you don’t want

That makes me feel… Explain how this makes you feel. This works because no one can argue with how you are feeling!

I would like you to… Keep it simple and assertive here.

4 Peace begins with me- this is a useful mantra. See Gabby Bernstein explain it here. 

Great Conversations

Gratitude- this is a magic bullet. Rather than focusing on what we don’t want we focus on what we already have. A really powerful tool in developing a positive mindset. There are lots of great gratitude journals out there but by personal favourite is encouraging the family to write their gratitude on a post it, pop it in a Kilner jar then from time to time we pull them out and share our gratitude together. It’s a great way to slow down and be in the moment!

Strengths- encouraging your children to focus on their strengths helps to build confidence and resilience. We are continually asking our children to try new things but to do that it really helps to be clear about what your strengths are and to know that they are not fixed, but can be developed over time. It never fails to amaze me how challenging this question is both for adults and children? What good are your strengths? Make a list and keep adding to it!

Mistakes- it’s very easy for children to look at adults and think we know what we’re doing! They’re not the ones who are learning. Be open, share your mistakes and what you have learned from them. A great mantra in our family is: Mistakes make me stronger. Remind your children that babies fail an average of 200 times before they take their first steps- it’s ok to fail but you have to persevere!

Useful Tools 

The brilliant book The Five Languages of Love is great for unlocking both adult and parent/ child relationships. There is a free online quiz which will help you to ascertain each family member’s preferred love language. 

DISC profiling is a psychometric tool used to help adults interact in the workplace. They also have an excellent profiling tool for children which is done on line, producing a detailed report helping you to understand your child’s character traits, communication style and how they interact with other people. Contact me if you’d like more information. 

Want to know more? Come and join the conversation in my private Facebook group The Happy Mum Hub. 

Book me to speak at your school or organisation by contacting me here.