Parenting is often described as one of the most rewarding and eye opening experiences people go through. Those first moments that make you beam with pride, the wonderfully creative art projects that you place front and center on the fridge or your desk at work, seeing your child reach a goal or learn a new skill, as parents we relish in these winning moments. Then one day you wake up to the reality that you have a teen/preteen in the house and you may find yourself questioning who this person is that you share space with!
Welcome to the teenage years! We were all there once so this should be a breeze right? If you find yourself wondering whether or not you will both make it out of this time period in one piece-take heart in knowing you are not alone. I can’t promise it won’t be a bumpy road but a little bit of insight can go a long way in making the journey a little bit smoother.
There’s no one size fits all approach when it comes to building and maintaining relationships with your kids, particularly teenagers. If you have more than one child then you probably know they each have their own personalities-2 children from the same family can be totally different people in terms of how they embrace and maneuver through the world. As parents our love is unconditional but we may need to express love to each child differently-not more or less-just in a way that speaks more directly to your child’s emotional needs.
Just as I often talk to couples about learning and speaking each other’s Love Language, the same can be said for parenting. Different children receive and interpret love in different ways. The teenage years are generally about transitioning into a state of more independence and self-identity combined with all the biological changes occurring. As frustrating as this time period can be for parents, it can be equally frustrating for your son or daughter. Here’s a quick look at how The 5 Love Languages developed by Dr. Gary Chapman can strengthen your relationship and improve communication between you and your child.
Words of Affirmation-Offer praise, compliments or affection either verbally or written. This can be as simple as saying ‘I love you’. With technology what it is today it’s simple enough to send a text message but hearing it holds just as much value if not more. If it’s exam day, game day or “any” day, a well placed Post-it note with words of encouragement (I’m proud of you!, You got this!, Good luck on your test!) are sure to bring a smile and fill that love tank. Likewise, if you know your son or daughter is working through a difficult situation a quick check in letting them know you are thinking of them can go a long way.
Physical Touch- Keeping in mind that there is a time and a place may be helpful if physical touch is your teens primary love language. By this age the idea of snuggling or PDA (Public Displays of Affection) are likely to be met with eye rolls or outright opposition! High fives, secret handshakes, hugs; a reassuring pat on the back can easily meet this need. And if you’re not sure, ask your child what they are most comfortable with and when.
Quality Time- Let your son or daughter know that they are the focus of your attention and time. Set phones, laptops and other technology aside and offer your undivided attention to listen, talk or enjoy a shared hobby. Quality over quantity applies here too-remember even 20 minutes of concentrating on someone else for the purpose of connecting and bonding is better than an hour of sitting in the same room staring at a television just for the sake of saying you spent time “together”.
Acts of Service-As parents we put hours each day in to doing things for others, there’s no denying that but when looking at it from the perspective of connecting with your son or daughter doing something with no expectation of getting something in return can be a great teaching opportunity. After all, kids have this wonderful way of learning by what they see others doing.
Gifts-Giving gifts as a love language is different than an allowance or gifts given for birthday’s or holidays. Likewise, if you find yourself stopping to buy a gift as a way of making up for not being home as much as you’d like, it may not be so warmly received (this is particularly true if their primary love language is Quality Time). Gifts need not be expensive or elaborate either. Buying their favorite drink, sports memorabilia, make-up or hair products make for quick and easy “thinking of you” tokens.
Creating more positive interactions and communication with your children can be a bit of a balancing act, incorporating pieces from each of the love languages. Like anyone else, when your teen feels loved, heard and understood, having more challenging conversations about setting boundaries, making good choices or dealing with all the emotions that come with this time period in their lives can go far more smoothly.