Thanksgiving was last week and if you’re anything like me, you’ve already moved on to Christmas and maybe even 2023. This time of year seems to move so much faster than the rest of the year, am I right? We are programmed to make resolutions or changes in the new year and many parents want to change or improve the dynamic in their home, the schedule they keep, or the relationship they have with their kids.
I work with tweens and teens but really, I work with the entire family since parental support and involvement is so important and necessary at this stage in a young person’s life. Because of this, I end up doing a lot of parent coaching too and I love it. Despite what a dramatic and hormonal teen may tell me about their “cringe-y” parents, I have yet to meet a mom or dad who didn’t simply want the best for their child and are looking for ways to deepen and strengthen the family relationship.
Here are 5 tips and suggestions that have made a difference to the lives of my clients and their families.
- The best thing you can do for your tween/teen is listen. Ask open-ended questions from a place of interest and curiosity (one that cannot simply be answered with a yes or no) and then wait patiently for their answer. Don’t get mad if they say “I don’t know” or “Why are you asking me this?” You can say “I’m genuinely curious about your life and your perspective on things.” If they don’t want to talk, it’s imperative that you say something like “That’s OK, we don’t have to talk right now but I want you to know that you can always come to me because I care.” The key thing here is to listen, without judgment, and without offering advice. Just sit with their feelings. Instead of swooping in to try to help, just say “Wow. That must be really hard. I’m sorry you’re feeling this way (sorry that happened to you, etc).” If you do want to offer solutions, ask them first by saying “I have had some life experience around this. May I share it with you?” If they say no, don’t get mad – it’s ok. You’ve planted the seed. Reiterate that you’ll be available if they should change their mind.
- My personal belief is that family dinners are a game changer for relationships. It doesn’t have to be every night if that seems daunting or the schedule doesn’t allow it but 2-3 times a week should be the minimum goal. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate home-cooked meal but everyone should be sitting around the table, with no devices, at a set time, with each kid having some kind of role. Who sets the table? Who clears? Who loads the dishwasher? Sure, they may complain about it at first but if you don’t cave, they’ll start to realize that this is non-negotiable and it’s what your family does. Then talk with each other! Be silly, ask their opinions, talk about current events, dream about vacations, etc. You’ll learn a lot from them!
- I’m a big fan of a “Family Mission Statement” and this can be an outcome of these discussions you’re having over dinner together. What do we stand for in this house? What do we believe in, what do we think is acceptable behavior, how do we act in this home and out in public, how do we speak to each other and people outside of our family, what do we bring to our community? This isn’t parents telling kids what to do, this is asking for input from everyone and then gently guiding if things are a little off-base or need clarifying! This is an awesome thing to come back to when something happens: a perfect chance to say “Hey, that goes outside of the family standards that we all designed together.” These don’t have to stay in place forever – they can be modified as kids grow older and family roles change – but having a written-out Family Mission Statement has a big impact on everyone. After a few weeks of family dinners, schedule a pizza or ice cream sundae meeting and design out your family mission statement. Explain why you’re doing it and get started on a draft. It may take more than one fun session to do this – that’s OK, you’re getting more family time that way. Then figure out a place to post the final version where everyone gets reminded (parents included!)
- Can you plan a once-per-month family activity night with no devices? It can be a movie at home, a dinner at a favorite restaurant, bowling, ice skating, a hike in the local park, whatever. But at the beginning of the month (or even a few months at a time for those with crazy schedules) get something on everyone’s calendar and don’t allow changes unless something very special or important comes along.
- When you and your kid have an argument, have a family code phrase or word that stops the situation: something that signals “I don’t want to keep going like this and I need a minute to regroup.” I have one family that uses “Do-Overs.” They recognize when it’s not going in a good direction, they own their part in it, and they say “I need a do-over.” It’s a super great way to acknowledge that they don’t want it to escalate further and everyone gets to take a deep breath and reevaluate.
Every parent (and every kid!) is doing the best they can with what they have in them at the moment. It’s my job to help them see what might work better! If even one of these ideas seems viable to you, I hope you’ll try it and see what happens. I’m wishing you all a joyous and happy holiday season with good vibes for a wonderful 2023!