How to Avoid Making Things Worse for Your Stressed-Out Teen
Who teaches you how to be an effective parent? No one. Human learning is a process that starts with imitation.
For better or for worse, you learned about parenting from your parents and the way they treated you. I’d bet that at some point as a child or teenager you thought, If I ever have children I’ll never act the way my mum (or dad) is acting! And here you are, many years later, doing the same thing with your children, and you think, My goodness, have I turned into my mother? Have I become my father? Sigmund Freud affirmed that we repeat until we remember. This means that imitation becomes habit, and if we want to change our habits - in this case as parents - we need to look consciously at what we are doing, right now, and see how our actions and thoughts affect our children, and how we can change the future by not repeating the past.
First, learn how to calm yourself down. As a parent, it is very easy to pick up on what your child feels and start feeling the same way yourself. (Also, of course, you have your own adult problems to cope with). If your child is anxious, sad or angry, you may quickly begin feeling the same thing even if you were feeling quite calm just moments before. In psychology we call this an “induced reaction” - you are induced into your child’s state.
Your child’s self-doubt might induce you into thinking you haven’t done a good job as a parent
This is a very human response, especially with people who are close with one another like parent and child. You increase your chances of reducing your child’s stress if you learn how to keep yourself calm no matter what is going on with her.
Next, be confident yourself. Your child’s self-doubt might induce you into thinking you haven’t done a good job as a parent. Not necessarily true!
Everyone has issues, but don’t confuse yours with your child’s. She is a separate entity. You will be a better resource for her if you work on keeping your own self-confidence strong without being arrogant.
Finally, how focused are you? If you have clear goals and minimise distraction, you can be a good role model for your child. She can see the effects for herself. Remember, cultivating good work habits is ultimately something children should learn to do for themselves because they see the positive results and feel good about having accomplished a goal. Though you may have to encourage and mentor her through this process, she is doing the work so that she can go on to lead a more fulfilling life. She can’t motivate herself to work hard just because you want her to.
Judgments and interpretations are triggers that make teens turn off to their parents
The teenage years are an enormous challenge - for everyone. It is a time of true individuation and separation, which can be hard for your teen and for you. If you and your teen strive to be more calm, confident and focused, these years don’t have to be a fight or burdensome. You and your teen can collaborate to reach his goals. You are not competing with your child, nor can you live through him. Your main job is to see, clearly, the person emerging in your child. He has his own life and his own story. Understand and appreciate the stresses your child is facing on a daily basis. Are you aware of the different requirements in all of your child’s classes, or what’s going on socially with her? Try saying to your child: “Help me understand what you’re finding so difficult in maths,” or “It must be hard when your friends aren’t including you in their plans”. This lets her know that you are there for her.
Don’t judge your child and don’t interpret his behaviour. Judging your child means saying something to him that sounds critical: “You are not good at science because you don’t use your head and think logically”. Interpreting sounds like you are his therapist: “I think the reason you’re not doing well is that you expect people to do everything for you". (This is also judgmental.) These approaches don’t work. Judgments and interpretations are triggers that make teens turn off to their parents.
Determine whether your child is as confident as he appears. Do you ever have the feeling that he is always trying to put up a good “front” - that he wants it to appear as if everything is all right when it really isn’t? If you suspect this, acknowledge his desire to do well, and also affirm that sometimes having some self-doubt is normal. It’s better to bring these doubts to the light of day than to pretend they don’t exist. Ultimately, the self-doubt will undermine his self-confidence.
Familius is a family and parenting publisher devoted to creating content that helps build strong values and happy families. Their books are available in the UK through Exisle Publishing. See www.exislepublishing.co.uk