Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some parents and teens report avoiding each other at all costs, fighting, disrespect, and even counting down to an 18th birthday because that means the teen is leaving the house. So what if the parent-teen relationship is already bad?
- Be realistic. All parents have fantasies of being the go-to person for your kid. That's just usually not the case. If your relationship is rocky, don't expect for it to improve to an unrealistic level. Be okay if the relationship improves but you aren't best friends.
- Contain your pride and hurt feelings. If a relationship has soured there is probably a history of pain, hurt, and disrespect for all involved. You can't undo the past, but you can learn from it. Remember, the goal is to contain, not bury negative feelings.
- Start over. Literally. Have a conversation about starting over. Sometimes your laptop is so infected with viruses you have to reboot. A start over is only possible if you can contain hurt feelings.
- Do different. When parents and teens fight, it's usually in an intellectualized way, meaning the argument is based on thoughts and opinions. If your arguments feel like a debate, your conversations are intellectualized. Try using emotional and curious statements. Expressing a feeling or curiosity about the opposing view can positively shift the direction of an argument.
- Common ground. Find common ground. Is there something you all can mutually agree on? If you can, this is a good way to open dialogue and rebuild a relationship. Even if the agreed thing is something small like not cursing or yelling, it's a start.
- Use incentives. A lot of parents say they are weary of a reward system because they don't want to "pay for good behavior." Incentives are what motivate people, whether it's money, status, praise, or a sense of accomplishment. Is it really the worst thing if your teen follows the rules just so they can go to a concert on the weekend?
- Co-create house rules. If there has been long-term conflict, the current rule system isn't working. Co-creating house rules means everyone knows the expectations and consequences. The rules should apply to everyone, even the adults.
- Be consistent. This is a hard one, because the fury of a teen who feels shackled can be overwhelming. If you have agreed upon rules, you have to be consistent and enforce them. I can't tell you how many times a teen has said to me that they aren't worried because they know their parents are “all talk.” Be consistent with punishment and praise.
- Find a mediator. It might be a friend, family member, or a professional. Having another person in the room can ease tensions. A mediator can provide objectivity where there is little. Just because you're an adult doesn't mean you are equipped with skills for any situation. Sometimes being a great parent is acknowledging your weaknesses.
- Keep perspective. I routinely have parents who come for a second session and say they haven't seen any improvement in the past week. The conflict is usually years in the making. That doesn't mean positive change will take years (it might) but it will take longer than a few sessions.
- Savor wins, even tiny ones. If your family sits through a meal without fighting for the first time in months, savor that moment. That doesn't mean be content, it means value “new” positive experiences, even if they seem insignificant. It's a start.
- Share your experience. Your family is certainly not the first or millionth family to have problems. Share your experience with peers to gain insight, ideas, and perspective.
- Hang in there. At some point, maybe 1, 5, 10 or 20 years down the road, your teen will come to a realization (usually when they are a parent) and gently ask, “Did I ever give you trouble?” That will be the bonding moment you've been waiting a lifetime for. Hang in there.
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