You see your teen feeling overwhelmed with school work, struggling with peer relationships, or constantly judging themselves and all you want to do is help them feel better. You do your best to say the right thing, but some words that may sound positive can actually hurt.
Teens don’t come with a “how-to” manual and despite being attentive loving parents we can say pretty unhelpful things sometimes. These aren’t always things said in the middle of an argument, but things we say to comfort or encourage our teens with the best of intentions.
Next time you find yourself ready to say one of these things pause and take a different approach.
1. Practice Makes perfect
It is true that the more you practice a skill the better you can get at it. However, “perfect” doesn’t exist. This not only sends the message that it isn’t okay to make mistakes, but that perfection is expected and to keep trying until they achieve it. Many teens hear that they are not good enough or worthy until they have achieved this perfection.
2. Don’t Worry or Don’t Cry
We say this often to try to comfort our teens, but instead it sends them the message that their feelings don’t count or are wrong. Instead try saying, “I can see why that be worrisome, what are some things you can do to feel less worried?” This shows your teen not only do understand their feelings but believe they are strong enough to address them.
3. How Was School Today?
This question is asked to show interest on your teens life, but is often met with one word answers – Typically, “good,” or “fine.” Instead try asking questions that require more than one word to answer, such as “what did you do for your science project?” or “who did you sit with at lunch?
4. I’m On a Diet
This is something to keep to yourself. If your children or teens hear you discussing watching your weight, being on a diet, or feeling fat they may develop their own body image issues. Instead try saying that you are eating healthy because you like the way it makes you feel.
5. If you don’t start doing better, you will never get a job/get into college
Often parents say this with the intention of getting teens to think about how their current behavior is impacting their future. If you don’t do your homework now or go to school, your hope of going to college won’t happen. However, if your teen is struggling with going to school adding pressure isn’t going to help. This sends them the message that you don’t believe in them. Focus on supporting the current behavior rather than a negative future. Instead try saying “What are some small steps you can take to get to school?
6. You Can’t Imagine the Day I’ve Had
As parents when you get home after a long day at work and the first thing your teen does is ask you for something or start an argument, this one can be easy to say. Often you are trying to get them to be compassionate and empathetic. What your teens hears is “My problems are more important than yours.” Your teen needs you to be fully present even when you don’t want to be. If you need a few minutes to relax, try pulling over listening to relaxing music or meditating in the car for a minutes down the road before walking in the door.
While these are often said with the best intentions, when we know more about how our teens interpret what we are saying we can truly be as helpful as we intended.
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