In our last post we discussed how putting a communication skill (aka don’t talk back) ahead of the relationship (aka I’m here for you unconditionally) actually made our number one priorities (our kids) feel like they came in second.

First, raise your hand if you relate to any of these phrases: 

“That sounds really tough….. BUT you still can’t talk to me in that tone of voice!!!”

“I understand you, BUT I still think you’re going about it wrong!”

“I’m sorry, BUT you were a huge jerk!!!”

Now raise your hand if you are worried that simply saying “I understand you, that sounds really tough. I’m sorry you’re going through that”…while your kid screams at you and slams the door and calls you very creative names will make you lose your control and your cool?

You aren’t alone. 

As stated in our last conversation, social skills, respect, and healthy communication are all important things to teach your tweens and teens.Letting them know that the way they communicated their needs wasn’t the best is entirely recommended. 

We are not in the business of just letting kids get away with being rude and having ‘tude.

We are in the business of first understanding why they are expressing things the way they are and how we can carefully craft our timing so that the very important lesson on healthy communication actually lands. 

The fact is, when teens are in the midst of working through their thoughts and feelings and asserting their voice they are not receptive to us. 
A kid that is screaming and slinging mud at you (or rolling eyes and walking away and shutting down) is a kid that is in a state of panic and overwhelm. Their ears are shut, their brains and hearts are exploding with too much information for them to comfortably process. Their internal state is dysregulated and they are pleading, “I need help! I need to be heard! I don’t feel safe or accepted! I can’t calm down until I feel safe and accepted and like my feelings matter! Like I matter!”

If you stay present with them during the panic and they reach a point where they feel safe and calm, their ears open back up. And their brains and hearts can take in the message. 

BUT (omg that WORD!)

But, this does not mean stating your point the moment they calm down! That will just amp them back up again!

The best thing to do is approach them later, at a more neutral time, and follow one of the following two strategies: 

1. Ask them how they felt that conversation went. Did they get their needs heard? What do they think got in the way? Have they taken some time to reflect on what they were feeling and wanting? Do they want to try to express themselves more clearly now? Are there ways they wish they had communicated differently? 

This strategy works for kids who feel guilty about how they talked to you. And guess what? Most teens feels this. Most teens are genuinely doing the best they can with what they have and when they explode, they feel awful later. They appreciate a warm person saying “hey, now that we’ve taken some space to cool off, maybe your thoughts feel a bit clearer to you and I’m here to listen. What is it that you were trying to communicate to me there?”

Also notice the sneaky lesson: Are there ways you wish you had communicated differently? ” Without instructing them or shaming them, you have given them the tool to self-reflect and take more responsibility for their tone and words and reactions. It’s a magic phrase and I hand it over to you for free. Enjoy. 

2. Option two (usually follows option one), is where you state that it was hard for you to meet their needs and attend to their feelings because the way they communicated was hurtful or unproductive. Saying something like, I know you feel hurt/scared/like I don’t get it. It’s hard for me to really get it when I am getting back talk, silent treatment, and eye rolls. I’m here to listen when you are ready to communicate with me clearly. 

Notice that I haven’t said “when you can communicate more respectfully” (as that is a trigger word for teens (yeah, I know, no surprises there. We’ve all learned that one the hard way). 

I have nothing against the “respect” word. I like it. I think it’s important. I’ve used it in past newsletters that discuss different circumstances where the word is warranted. Sometimes we need to bust out the firm but effective: “that is not a respectful way to communicate with me or anyone and I will not be continuing this conversation until we can resume respectful communication. Would you like some space and then you can come find me later when you are ready?”

And if they stomp off, fine. Let ’em. Boundaries after all, are important. 

I simply like to try to postpone the “respect” conversation until other routes have proven ineffective. My preference is for the word “clearly”. 

Saying “when you can communicate more clearly with me” sends the following message to your teen: 

a) Your emotions are overwhelming. It is hard to process your needs and feelings when you have too much going on. This acknowledges the developmental stage that tweens and teens are in. They can’t actually emotionally regulate well at times. 

b) That makes communication murky and difficult. When you can’t communicate clearly, other people struggle to come through for you in meeting your needs. This teaches them that clear communication is inherently calm, respectful, and keeps the focus on them not what the other person did. 

c) That I’m ready to listen and I am here for you but I will not be able to effectively support you if you continue with attitude, nor will I allow myself to be subject to that kind of treatment. 

The word “clearly” serves the same purpose of the word “respectful” without the trigger.

Ready to give it a try? I’m sure this week your teen will give you ample opportunity to practice 🙂 Let me know how it goes!