If you have a teen you have probably experienced being told to “leave me alone.” You may have noticed your teen becoming more distant or feel suddenly shut out of their life.
Here are four questions you can ask your teen to help you better understand their perspective and to gain a closer connection:
- What led up to feeling this way? Do not ask “why” do you feel this way? “What” is always a question that will more likely elicit information. “Why” can feel like an accusation. Sometimes a teen has no idea what they are feeling. In that case, simple empathy can make them feel less alone: “That has to be extra painful, not knowing what is causing your unhappiness.” Sit with them in silence with warm compassion and allow them to feel their distress. And-manage your own feelings! They do not need to know that their pain is causing you distress/anxiety!
- When did you first notice feeling this way? (trying to understand the emotion). If their feeling is a result a situation they got themselves into because they violated a rule or failed to use common sense, this is NOT the time to point that out! Focus on their feelings, not the behaviors. Oftentimes, their shame and fear of how you will react is what is keeping them from sharing to begin with.
- What does this feeling motivate me to do? As a parent, observe what they do and how they are coping/not coping. It would be wiser to ask how you can help. You can also explore the same question with your teen. What does their feeling motivate them to do? Take revenge? Hurt themselves? Confront someone? Etc.
- How is my feeling impacting others? As a parent, if you are panicking, you will be sending a message that the situation is worse than they even imagined. As a parent, if you are motivated to give advice or fix it, it may be because you are not comfortable with your child’s distress.
You may not get suddenly open and engaged teen. What you will get is a teen who feel more understood and is more likely to share and connect with you willingly.
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