Many of us think that children are very easy to manoeuvre and we do not need to explain everything to them. It is therefore every easy to say a “No” or avoid a discussion that requires answering a lot of questions. Last week a friend of mine called me and told me that she had real trouble dealing with her 13 year old. He would just not accept any answer from her and he would argue about everything. I asked her a simple question –
“What sort of interaction do you have with him?”
She did not understand the question and replied, “What do you mean?”
Then I asked her, “If I ask you to go through your day and think of all the interactions you have had with your son – which interactions do you remember and what sort of interactions were they?”
She recited some of the interactions and as I had expected – most of the interactions were simple daily chores, small admonishments and arguments, advice given while preparing food or doing household work, orders given and taken, yes-no conversations etc. In short there was not a single one-to-one, face-to-face conversation she had with her son. It was very obvious here that she had no meaningful relationship with her son and dealing with him was like getting a job done at home. She had avoided all difficult discussions either by a simply ignoring the problem or reproaching him or through superficial advising. Following are the five tips I gave her to improve the relationship with her son:
Like every relationship, especially when your kid enters their teens, you need to give time to develop it to next phase. Teenage is a very critical and delicate stage of your child’s life and you need to understand their requirements and mental state. Many teenagers are confused – they want to be treated like adults, but at the same time they are not sure how to take the responsibility of an adult. They are not sure what behaviours would give confidence to their elders and parents about their renewed sense of responsibility. Hence it is crucial to give time to redefine their identity for themselves.
Listen not just to what they are saying but what they want to say. It is very crucial to understand the undercurrents and their feelings. They want to be treated like adults and not kids and the best we can do as parents is to treat them like one by giving them more responsibility/respect and not constantly chiding. Listening especially to what your child is meaning to say can give you a lot of cues on what you can do, how their mind is working, what are their fears and where they can go wrong.
Have face-to-face discussions:
Have at one face-to-face discussion with you kid – where the time belongs to them and you are not multi-tasking. Try and select a topic – “What did you do today?”; “How can we change the room set-up?”; “How are his/her friends doing?”; etc. Be genuine about topics and show interest in what they are saying. It might be a bit tough in the beginning, if you are not used to having these free flow conversations – but once you develop a rapport topics will crop up from no where. In these discussions, ask as many open ended questions – but allow you kid to do most of the speaking. Again this is the best way to understand undercurrents and hidden feelings.
Coach rather than direct:
Get out of the constant ordering mode and coach them as much as possible. Coaching is a technique where you play a role as a friend, philosopher and guide and not a pacesetter or commander. It takes a lot to step back and allow your kid to find the way, as most of the time you know the right answer. But, only when you loosen the reins a bit will you allow your child to grow. Coaching cultivates creativity, forces your child to think and most importantly generates confidence.
Finally, give space – don’t keep on breathing down their neck. Allow them the latitude and show trust in their capabilities. You will be surprised; they will never let you down as they know that you have put a lot of trust in them. I have found that kids are most conscientious – much more than any of us. Most of us are rather protective of our children – hence they have not been touched by the gruelling truths of the world, which makes most of us shrewd or crafty. If we can allow them to experience trust and honesty in the safe environment at home they will become stronger human beings in the future, when they have to face the world.
Teenage is like a tectonic shift in life of your child. For them, it is a sudden realisation of their identity and their worth; they start understanding things lot more and start relating to events. It is also a time of emotional upheaval, where they are constantly searching their self, about what they stand for and what they want to do. As they move into teenage – our kids form early images of what they want to do in their lives, have their heroes and idols and change their habits to live up to the image they form about themselves. All you can do is positively reinforce right behaviours, make them see the pitfalls of certain behaviours and most importantly become their friends rather than parents. Only then will you be able to develop trust in the relationship.