It seems to happen overnight – one moment we are tucking our child into bed with a cuddle and a bedtime story – the next they are seemingly intent on rejecting everything we learned about them over the past decade!
Surviving adolescence requires more than sheer luck and good fortune. As parents, we need a whole new plan of action as we prepare to guide our young adult toward their independence. Here are seven strategies you can use to navigate the tricky waters of your child’s adolescence:
1. Model Healthy Behaviour
In adolescence, children begin to realize that their parents have imperfections. These have been lurking in the background despite our efforts to set expectations for our children’s behaviour. While younger children may have accepted “Because I’m the adult” as the reason we can stay up late, play on an electronic device for hours, or smoke cigarettes, adolescents will challenge this idea.
If we tell our preteen to limit their time on electronic devices while we remain logged in 24/7, they will recognize the disconnect between what we say and what we do. And chances are the behaviours we want our adolescents to demonstrate are probably good for us too.
2. Be Perfectly Imperfect
Modelling healthy behaviour doesn’t always mean that we have to hide our limitations or model outstanding citizenship. In fact, it may be more beneficial for your adolescent if you acknowledge areas of struggle and how you cope (or don’t cope) in your own life. Keep in mind that this sharing should be age-appropriate and not create any additional stress for the adolescent.
Do you struggle with motivation? Do you avoid conflict? Or maybe you are easily angered. Being willing to share your own shortcomings will have a much greater impact than pretending you don’t have any. When we are willing to acknowledge our own struggles, our children get an opportunity to witness how we handle ourselves in these situations. Adolescents need to be able to make some poor choices in order to become effective decision makers in the future. When we lead with our own examples, they learn that it is safe to seek support rather than hide their mistakes.
It’s important to recognize the difference between motivating your child towards their goals and steering them towards your own expectations.
3. Leave Your Expectations Elsewhere
As soon as you became a parent, you probably started creating a vision of the child you would raise. In their younger years, you probably had a lot of control over their friends, interests, and activities to make that vision appear to be true. However, it is normal for adolescents to want to create their own identity, and this may come with the rejection of activities or interests they once enjoyed.
Children should not have to live up to the expectations that we created for them. While some adolescents may require encouragement to stick with friendships or activities that become challenging, recognize the difference between motivating them towards their goals and steering them towards your own expectations.
4. Support, Don’t Rescue
Remember eighth grade? Chances are, as soon as you read those words, you were mentally transported to another time and place in your life. Maybe it was a memorable teacher, an embarrassing moment, or a particular challenge that came to mind. I remember trying out for the basketball team in eighth grade – but I didn’t make the cut. Although it might have been tempting to blame the coaches or make excuses about why I didn’t perform well at tryouts, the truth is I just wasn’t very skilled at basketball!
When an adolescent experiences failure, offer empathy without critiquing the circumstances. Children need opportunities to experience disappointment, rejection, and loss in order to learn that they can manage their emotions independently in the future.
5. Talk Less, Listen More
As parents, we are our children’s first teachers and with that responsibility often comes a lot of talking. Yes, words are necessary in communication, but as a counsellor I often encourage parents to “say less, show more.” We can so easily fall into long lectures, but typically children stop listening after the first sentence, especially if it is something they have heard before.
Be sure to give your child room to speak – it won’t always happen when you expect it. I have learned so much about my daughter by going on hikes together. As we wander through the woods in single file, she has brought up topics that I am certain would not have been revealed without creating the space for these conversations to spontaneously occur.
6. Get Support
Make sure you surround yourself with other parents and caregivers who will speak openly about their own parenting challenges. It is easy to believe that everyone else is getting it right, while your family is silently struggling. Although every family is slightly different, they all go through challenging transitions. Take care of yourself and make time for social connections to prevent feelings of isolation.
7. Enjoy your child
And finally, don’t get so focused on raising your adolescent that you forget to enjoy them along the way! Having fun is an important part of surviving adolescence. Although your child may not seek your involvement in the same way they used to, don’t miss their invitations to engage. Savour the moments that become the memories you will both look back upon and smile.
These strategies are meant to guide you through the unique challenges you might encounter as you journey through adolescence with your child. Being willing to explore new ways of connecting will allow you both to feel more comfortable as your relationship continues to change during these final years of childhood.
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