Updated: Jul 7
Many of our interactions with our teens revolve around day-to-day chores and obligations, like getting ready on time to get out the door for school, scrambling to get dinner on the table, and nagging to get bedrooms tidied and clothes in the laundry basket.
The result is a lot of communicating, but not a lot of connecting, especially about what really matters. If we want our teens to talk to us about the big things then we need to already be talking to them about the little things. However, this doesn’t happen unless we take the time to create the space for this to happen. So, step one on the path to creating more harmony at home, is to create time and space to truly connect.
Here are some ideas:
· Offer to sit and listen to their favourite music playlist
· Watch an episode of their favourite online content creator
· Walk the dog together
· Kick a ball around
· Go for a drive
· Take them out for an ice-cream, milkshake, or smoothie
· Cook or bake something together
The idea is to be together without it feeling like an interrogation to your teen. In these casual and fun moments, light-hearted chatting can often turn into more meaningful conversation. Don’t force it though, just enjoy being together. Of course, active listening is also a key component here. Teens are sensitive to parents who brush them off or only act as though they’re listening. Here are some tips to help you listen so that your teen actually feels heard:
· Be open and curious to what they’re saying without judging them or their ideas
· Ask them to explain, clarify or describe in a non-judgmental way, e.g. “Can you tell me what you love about this type of music?”
· Encourage their dreams without immediately pointing out the pitfalls, e.g. “That’s a big dream! Let me know if you need help preparing for any challenges you may face.”
· Ask open-ended questions when they’re discussing their interests, e.g. “What do you enjoy about that show?”
· Avoid trying to problem-solve or fix any issues they may bring up with their peers, teachers or employer. Rather ask them how they’re handling it, whether they need any help from you, and to keep you updated so you can support them.
Step two to creating more harmony is to set up expectations right from the start. If everybody is aware of the “house rules” as well as the consequences for breaching them, then there is no need for any loud and upsetting confrontations, nor is there a need for the dreaded nagging. House rules should be 3 to 5 as all expectations can be filed under a few umbrella rules, e.g. everybody treats everybody with respect.
The purpose here is that if your teen chooses a certain behaviour then they also choose the consequence for that behaviour. With this in mind, there is no nagging or punishment, because we already know what is expected, and we know what will happen when we choose to do, or not to do, what is expected. The consequence should just be followed through with no argument. Here is an example:
House rule: We all pick up after ourselves.
What is included under this rule: Putting laundry in the basket or washing machine, cleaning our own dishes, changing the toilet roll, etc.
Consequence for non-compliance: Clothes don’t get washed if they’re not in the basket, morning hot chocolate does not get made if the previous cup hasn’t been washed, favourite snacks get hidden away until a bedroom is tidied up, etc.
Rather than create a punitive atmosphere, we’re trying to instill the lesson that your actions have consequences. This is important because at the end of the day, we’re raising adults. We all have to be accountable for decisions we make every day, this is a life skill. The key ingredient here is consistency.
The final step to creating harmony, is to offer your teen some power and control. This is how you get them invested in what you’re trying to achieve. Teens often feel frustrated that they are still treated like children, and have no say in matters that also affect them. There are a few ways to involve your teens in decision-making without giving them total power.
One way is to include them in the drawing up of the house rules. This can be done at a family meeting. It’s also a good idea to have monthly check-ins so that your teens can bring up things they’re not happy with. Another way is to offer them limited options instead of making final options available with no input from them at all. Offer them a night every week where they decide what is for dinner. Limit their options by making three alternatives available. Allow them to negotiate consequences for breaching house rules and again offer limited options. Teens can be quite competent at negotiating their own consequences for non-compliance. This is a good way to get them to make the connection between their own choices and their own consequences, i.e. being accountable.
It’s never easy when it comes to parenting and we all know there are no quick fixes or miracle cures. We will be tired, we will have less patience, and we will “lose the plot” at times. If we are open and accepting of our own faults as well as those of our teens, we can navigate our way through this.
Having an open-door policy allowing your teens to bring their concerns to you, negotiate for their needs to be met, and perhaps even attempt to lessen the harshness of some of the consequences (upfront before non-compliance), will pave the way to more cooperation, less conflict, and more harmony in the home.