Friends help you to survive and live longer. Wouldn’t it be awesome to live up to 100 years old? Eyva is a third grader at Jamacha Elementary School.
Sometimes it’s harder to communicate with teenagers than it would be to fry an egg on the sidewalk in Minnesota in January. No matter what you do, both the egg and the conversation turn as cold as ice, not sunny-side up.
It’s easy to take this personally, too. They seem to be able to talk (or at least text) incessantly with their friends. But instead of nice interludes that bring us all together, too many family encounters are drowned with juggling schedules, extinguishing fires, or nagging about dirty socks. Let’s take a pause and figure out what’s going on.
Change, Not Calamity
What’s going wrong? Why can’t we talk like we could just a couple of years ago? Most likely, nothing has gone wrong. Your teen is probably dealing with some of the normal changes and challenges of becoming an adolescent. As children become teenagers, they begin to think, act and relate in new ways that can be confusing to their families—not to mention, to themselves.
But parents shouldn’t check out just because kids change. Just the opposite: During this key transition into adolescence, as parents, we have a unique opportunity to recalibrate our relationships with our kids. Doing so can keep our families connected as our kids grow from being young children to becoming young adults.
For several years, Search Institute—a nonprofit research organization focused on positive youth development—has been examining the kinds of relationships young people need (and want) with friends, family and other important people in their lives. These “developmental relationships” are like roots that provide nourishment for growth and stability to buffer them against life’s challenges.
Developmental relationships consist of five elements that give them their power and make them practical to be intentional in nurturing. Those same five elements can refresh and deepen our conversations with our kids.
This element focuses on how we show that we matter to each other. That includes showing warmth, really listening to each other, and being dependable. Here are ways to deepen conversations through expressing care:
- Focus on the conversation and your child. Multi-tasking doesn’t work if you want your child to feel seen, heard and valued. Turn off and put away cell phones, video games or the television—whatever might otherwise distract either of you.
- Be open about your own life. You want a two-way conversation, and they don’t want an inquisition. Be willing to reveal yourself without crossing boundaries that are inappropriate for a child to deal with.
This element emphasizes how we need each other to nudge and even push us to work toward our goals, encouraging us along the way. Here are some ways to challenge growth through our conversations:
- Talk about failures, missed opportunities and disappointments—not in a judgmental way, but in a caring and supportive way that deepens insight and learning. One way this works best is if you model openness about your own mistakes. (See tip #2.)
- Ask open-ended, non-threatening follow-up questions. “Can you tell me more about that?” “I didn’t understand how that works. Can you explain it more?” Probe deeper, even if neither of you knows more. (That’s actually the point, right?)
This element highlights ways we help each other navigate challenges, advocate for each other, and find other ways to empower each other to complete tasks and achieve goals. Here are ways to support each other through our conversations:
- Take their challenges and concerns seriously. No, a teen breakup isn’t the end of the world. But it feels devastating if it’s your first time. Listening empathetically and giving them time to think through all the issues they now face may be key to them coming to you for support for something bigger the next time.
- Avoid the question barrage. Sometimes when we’re excited or upset, we can pummel our kids with questions (particularly if they’re not saying much). This approach mostly just adds to the stress. Take a break and find a time when they’re ready to talk.
This element addresses how we treat each other with respect and give each other a say as well as meaningful roles. We can share power in our conversations in many ways, including these:
- Share airtime. Keep your responses short. Don’t dominate. (Enough said.)
- Talk on their terms, time and turf, particularly if that helps them feel comfortable and open up. One of my sons loved to open up late in the evening, so I’m glad my wife is a night owl. My other son would open up while we did carpentry or cooking together.
This final element includes the many ways we introduce and connect each other to other people, ideas and places that broaden and enrich our worlds. Here are ways to expand conversations beyond quick, superficial exchanges:
- Explore ideas or topics you’re both interested in but may not know much about. “What if . . .” questions can be fun ways to tap your imaginations and stretch how you think.
- Follow their dreams and interests. If you want to have a glimpse into who they are and who they are becoming, you can do no better than listening to them tell you about the things that fascinate them and draw them in. In the process, you’ll learn something, too!
Brené Brown studies human connection — our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity. A talk to share.
We’ve known for quite a while that the number of words a young child hears matters. A study from the 1990s showed that children who were exposed to a greater number of words from a young age went on to have better vocabulary, language, and reading comprehension skills than those who heard fewer words.
But recent research is shifting the focus from the number of words a child hears to the quality of the interaction between the adult and the child. It turns out that it’s the kind of conversation a child is engaged in, rather than the number of words he hears, that makes the biggest difference to his language and literacy development.
In her book, Rising Strong, Research professor, Brene Brown, teaches an acronym, BRAVING, that she has created for remembering what she defines as the anatomy of trust. These 7 elements that make up trust are as follows;
- B is for Boundaries
- You respect my boundaries and when you’re not too sure, you ask.
- You are willing to hold your own boundaries and to make those boundaries clear to me.
- You are willing to say ‘no’ and you are willing to accept ‘no’.
- R is for Reliability
- Reliability means that you will do what you said you will do…over and over and over.
- You cannot earn or gain trust if you do something once, it takes regular and consistent actions. This means being aware of our strengths and limitations so that we don’t take on so much that we come up short and then don’t deliver or our commitments.
- A is for Accountability
- I can only trust you IF… when you make a mistake, you are willing to own it, apologize for it and make amends.
- I can only trust you IF… when I make a mistake, I am allowed to own it, apologize for it and make amends.
- No accountability, no trust!
- V is for Vault
- Being a vault means people can keep their valuables with you and you will keep them safe.
- Being a vault involves not sharing information or experiences that aren’t ours to share.
- You keep my secrets and the secrets of others.
- A very key point about building trust is not telling the secrets of others.
- When you tell another person’s secrets, you are essentially showing me that you can’t be trusted to hold my secrets.
- I is for Integrity
- Integrity means our actions match our words.
- According to Dr. Brown, you choose courage over comfort, you choose what is right over what is quick, convenient or easy, and you choose to practice your values and believes rather than simply professing them.
- N is for Non-judgment
- Non-judgment is refraining from judging either ourself or others.
- With non-judgment, I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need.
- We can talk about how we feel without judgment.”
- G is for Generosity
- When applying Generosity you are attempting “to extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others”.
- This is assuming the best of others.
The following checklist will help guide you in holding powerful and purposeful conversations. Use it before and during the conversation to help keep your purpose clear, the conversation safe, and your preferred outcome in sight.
- Center: How will I remind myself to center before the conversation and to re-center periodically?
- Purpose: What is my purpose? Is it a useful purpose?
- Inquiry: What are some honest, open-ended questions I might ask my partner? What do I need to learn about how s/he sees this situation?
- Acknowledgment: What feelings might surface that I can acknowledge? How will I remember to summarize?
- Advocacy: What is my primary message? How will I tell my story while maintaining a respectful and non-judgmental stance?
- Move to Action/Build Agreement: What are possible scenarios my partner might offer? What will I suggest? What is my preferred outcome?
- I have something I’d like to discuss with you that I think will help us work together better.
- I’d like to talk about ____________ with you, but first I’d like to get your point of view.
- I need your help with what just happened. Do you have a few minutes to talk?
- I need your help with ____________. Can we talk about it (soon)? If they say, “Sure, let me get back to you,” follow up with them.
- (Third Story) I think we have different perceptions about _____________. I’d like to hear your thinking on this.
- I’ve noticed a recurring argument (conflict, disagreement, problem) we seem to have. I’d like to talk about why that happens.
- I’d like to see if we can reach a better understanding about ___________. I really want to hear your feelings about this and share my perspective as well.