Better Conversations with Teens & TweensAug 31, 2023
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Today, we’re talking about having better conversations with your teens and tweens. How can you continue to feel connected to your kid during this time when it’s so easy to drift apart?
I know that you don’t want your relationship to be adversarial and to feel really disconnected, but this often happens in the middle school and high school years.
You end up talking about school, chores, grades, their attitude…and the ways they’re not measuring up. You’re not sure how to set limits and follow through with appropriate consequences, so you’re constantly reminding them of things they need to do. And this nagging and criticism creates a lot of disconnection.
So when you have only a limited amount of time to talk with your teen or tween, how do you want to spend it?
In this episode, I’ll walk you through four different types of conversations to check in, get to know your kid, connect with them in a deeper way and hold them accountable when they mess up.
And even though I’m focusing on teens and tweens, these four conversation types are important for all ages and relationships. You can adapt them for your younger kids, too.
4 Types of Conversations to Have With Your Teen or Tween
The Casual Conversation
I like to call this the “shoot the shit” conversation, talking about regular, everyday things.
There are no expectations or agendas. You’re just getting to know your kid - what’s on their mind, what they’re interested in, etc. Engage with them and get a peek into their world. Just keep it light, like how it feels to hang out and chat with a friend.
If they brush you off, don’t give up. Don’t make it mean anything. Just keep trying and be a regular human being with your kids.
The Curiosity Conversation
Remember how you could watch your kids for hours when they were first learning to walk and talk? Big developmental milestones are still happening in your teen, but they’re internal.
Our kids have things in their heads that we don’t know are in there. Curiosity can coax some of it out.
The approach is less, “I’m going to teach you something,” and more about figuring out what they know. What are they learning and thinking and doing and planning?
Your teen or tween actually does want to talk about what they are thinking and feeling. They just don't want to be told what to think or feel, so you have to leave your agenda at the door. Often, they’ll even start the conversation. You just have to recognize the cues.
A couple of warnings…
#1: The topics your kid is interested in might be boring to you.
#2: They might say things that surprise (or alarm) you. Remember, they’re trying on different ideas as they continue to grow, mature and create their identity.
Set boundaries or politely end the conversation if you need to. You can say "I love talking about things with you, but I'm not open to this conversation right now."
If you want to build more connection and warmth between you and your kid, these conversations are how you get it. Get curious, ask questions, let your kids tell you what they know and what they think.
The Connection Conversation
These are a little bit deeper. Here, you get to learn more about the emotional life of your child.
Your teen or your tween desperately wants to feel safe with you. They want to feel seen and soothed by you and secure in your relationship.
They also don’t really want you to know all of that. They don't like the vulnerability of still being a kid. They want to act older, show up differently, be mature and not really need their parents.
So, while your kid really wants to have these conversations with you, it’s also really difficult and uncomfortable to talk about hard things and be that vulnerable.
As the parent, you can provide the opportunity for them to share those hard things with you, but you might need to be a little stealthy and they’ll participate when they’re feeling really, really safe. You can start a conversation by simply narrating what you see (e.g. you’re quiet today, you’re complaining quite a bit today) without any snark or assumption. Then ask, “I wonder if there’s something on your mind?” or, “are you feeling frustrated?”
Whether or not they choose to engage in the conversation with you has very little to do with you, and a lot to do with how much vulnerability they can tolerate in the moment. Either way, they will see that you are holding that space for them and are there to listen.
Sometimes, these conversations are completely silent. I call this quiet compassion, and it is often enough. You can recognize that they are hurting, connect with that situation and feeling and move into a compassionate place all in your own mind. You will soften toward your kid, and they’ll feel that safety and connection with you.
The Correction Conversation
Correction is what needs to happen when your teen or tween messes up (because they will). How do you handle it when they don’t keep a limit you set?
In a correction conversation, you pull back some freedom from your kid and give them responsibility to build trust. The goal is to communicate this without breaking the relationship.
Our tendency is often to go into a big lecture, but the truth is, that’s not going to help.
Instead, just tell them the consequence and let them have a big feeling cycle about it. That’s it. If they want more explanation, you can give it once everyone is calm. If things get heated, take a break.
This is a huge part of what we talk about in The Emotionally Healthy Middle Schooler and The Emotionally Healthy Teen courses. I’d love to help you have more of these quality conversations with your teen or tween, so be sure to check out the courses and sign up if you want all the coaching, scripts, conversation starters, workbook and support that come along with it.
No matter the age of your kids, I hope you have some beautiful conversations with them this week.
- Why your kid spends so much time in their room (it’s not usually about you)
- 4 types of conversations you should be having with your teen or tween
- How to have better quality conversations with your kid
- Scripts and prompts for each type of conversation
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