As our kids get older, we have less and less control over their lives. By the time they get to adolescence, they’ve chosen their own friends, they’ve seen things online that would make our eyeballs fall out, and they’ve had romantic interests we know nothing about.

Although we can’t control their lives the way we used to, we can control the way we communicate with them. We can mend and grow our communication with our children at any point, even well into their adulthood; it’s never too late.

Our teens don’t make it easy for us though. Sometimes they say strange, irrational things that make you feel like you’ve entered an alternate universe. 😜🤣

But the good news is, we can make some small tweaks to the way we talk to them that will make a significant difference.

Beneath their tumultuous emotions and firm opinions, what most adolescents (and adults) desire is to feel secure, understood, confident, and in control.

So, here’s a valuable technique you can try this week: quell the urge to provide solutions or directions immediately and instead acknowledge and reflect back what they tell you.

We all have something called the righting reflex–the desire to solve a problem, give advice, or minimize someone’s pain. We might do it with a partner, a friend, or a colleague, but it can kick in big time with our kids.

For instance, about four years ago, my son had a biking accident that injured his knee. He did physical therapy for a couple of months and had to take a break from playing soccer, which was a big bummer, given his recent promotion to a more advanced team.

One evening before bed he told me he thought his knee wasn’t getting better and he was worried that he wouldn’t be able to get back to where he was in the league.

I could tell he was feeling really down so I tried to give him a pep talk by telling him that he was making progress in physical therapy and that he’d get back to playing soccer soon. I rambled on about how well he was doing and that with a little extra work he’d be back on the field. 

After a while, he looked at me and said, “Can you stop talking? It’s really infuriating!”

Wow, I thought I was giving him a great pep talk! But apparently it wasn’t. So I got quiet and said, “This is really hard. Isn’t it?” He nodded his head and came in for a hug. 

This week, try to pause the righting reflex when you’re talking to your preteen or adolescent–or anyone else for that matter. 

When your child says, “I hate my math class!” Try responding with, “Tell me more. What don’t you like?”

Instead of jumping in with advice or minimizing the issue, acknowledge what they say, reflect back what you hear, and ask them if they’d like advice or suggestions. Try statements like:

  • That sounds hard.
  • Tell me more.
  • Help me understand what you’re thinking.
  • Thanks for talking about this with me. 
  • I know how important this is to you.
  • That’s so disappointing. I know how excited you were about that.
  • Let me think about this. I don’t know what to do, but I’ll take some time to think.

And finally, if your teen seems open to it,  you can ask:

  • Are you looking for advice?
  • Can I share some ideas?

If they say, no, that’s a good indicator to step back for now and bring up the topic another time.

Developing good communication with your teen requires a lot of patience and a lot of biting your tongue.That doesn’t mean you let them languish with bad decisions or let them break the rules you’ve set. But it means that if you acknowledge their feelings and reflect back what they’re saying instead of giving immediate solutions, you can create an environment where they feel heard, valued, and more likely to come to you when they need help navigating the bumpy, blissful waters of adolescence.