When it’s clear your teenager is having a tough time, it can be difficult to know what’s best for parents to do.
Keep our distance? After all, how else will they learn to be independent if we jump in to help every time we see that something’s wrong ?
Or do we plunge straight in with “Tell me what’s the matter and I’ll sort everything out”?
Here are some other options to try….
1. Be there to LISTEN to them as a supporter rather than a fixer.
This means resisting the urge to react or take action. Let them know that you’re not going to do anything unless they consent to it, eg. Contact friend, school or a doctor.
Remind yourself that this is the moment for your ears to work harder than your mouth (keep those comments to yourself!)
When they stop speaking, wait for at least 5 seconds to give them a chance to continue. It tells them that you really are listening and aren’t going to jump in to take control.
2. Choose your words carefully to VALIDATE how they feel.
It doesn’t matter if YOU think they should be feeling this way or not. What matters is that they see you acknowledging that they ARE upset, and hear words to validate how they feel.
Saying “That must be disappointing for you” will help them much more than saying “You’ll feel better tomorrow” (even though they probably will feel better after 24 hours).
Reflect back to them what you hear them saying, ie ‘So you’re feeling …. because …..”
They will feel supported by this and it will show you’re taking what they’re saying seriously.
Oh yes – and if you’re stuck for something to say yourself, it’s enough for them to just know you’re there listening to them.
3. Enable them to come up with possible solutions themself.
Ask them: ‘What would you like to happen?’ and ‘What actions can you take?’
Let them decide how they’re going to move forward.
And only at this point can you say: ‘Do you need a hand with any of those?’
Working out a plan together, where they take the lead, provides the right balance of independence for them alongside effective support from you.
The biggest reward they will get from trying to sort things out themself is that they know you believe they can do it.
So when your teenager is upset, open your ears and resist the urge to make everything better. Try not to think about it as role reversal, it’s more about moving forwards into your new roles together.
They’re learning how to do this for themself and it’s great how you’re learning how to let them.
What else do you find helps when your teenager is upset?
Caroline Jacobs – Adolescent Wellbeing Coach
Helping Mums and Sons to Keep Talking through the Teen and Young Adult Years.