If you are like most parents, you will most likely find yourself asking your teen the typical “how was your day question” after school.
One reason may be because you generally are just curious and just want to be informed of all the good things about your kids’ life. Also, you might want to be up to date with any info that may or may not be of potential concern to your teens well-being.
You also see the distress your teen has about school sometimes. There can be a variety of feelings going on like anxiousness, excitement, irritation mixed with the change of getting back into the swing of a school schedule after sleeping in all summer long.
So like any good parent you are going to ask how their day was, right? Well don’t! In fact, in most cases (when your teen is distressed, shutting down or getting irritated easily with you trying to engage them) I suggest you not ask your teen any questions at all. Especially when they get home from school. When you are worried or distressed about something going on in their life, don’t ask them questions, at least not at first. (Keep reading and you will learn how this makes sense, despite if you think this is absurd.)
The reason being is that ever since your teen has been a small child they have been conditioned to recognize questions as being a sign that they did something wrong, you are doubting, and questioning their ability. Parents have always asked questions when they are angry or trying to figure out what is wrong with their child’s behavior, like “why did you just hit your brother?” “How many times do I have to tell you?” “How come you didn’t pick up your toys?”
Oddly enough, many times these questions are asked even when the answer is known by the parent. A parent can watch the older sibling hit the younger and even know what started the altercation but still ask, why? Usually, parents are hoping to get the child to confess, acknowledge, and hold themselves accountable. In some cases the parent may just be mad and out of frustration feel like calling attention to the bad behavior publicly and shaming the child is the best way to teach them a lesson. After all, its what our parents did to us and look how great we turned out…lol. If you’ve been guilty of doing the former it’s okay I’m pretty sure this is just a bad parenting trait passed on from generation to generation and not one that you have consciously made an effort to do.
In contrast, parents when happy with their kids or impressed with their actions will usually make statements to acknowledge the child’s accomplishments. Such as, “great job on cleaning your room.”, “That word was hard to read but I knew you could do it.”, “You are so smart, I didn’t even know how to do that when I was your age.” You see parents mostly use statements to build confidence, reward and give praise.
In addition, to being bombarded with intense hormones, stress of seeking peer acceptance, school work and self-image issues. Teens are also fed up with hearing questions for so many years because questions have usually been associated with criticism, shame, consequences and generally frustrated parents. Which is why teens have built a radar to alert them to get ready to defend their way of life when they hear questions, regardless of the questions meaning or intent.
Statements however, usually are picked up by a teens radar as just information, an oncoming compliment, reward, or reassurance of something. Simply put, statements don’t trigger a defensive reaction nearly as much as questions do. Interestingly enough, statements trigger a curiosity of what is coming next. A teen usually pays more attention to what is about to be said and doesn’t jump to conclusions about a message right away when a parent leads off with making statements to first address something before asking questions.
Most parents I work with tell me they are sometimes confused because one moment they are having a decent conversation with their teen and then just hours later their teen is being rude or disrespectful, after the parent tried to engage them with what the parent thought was just a simple question. The parent will then tell me their surprise when their teen was being so rude and then how the argument/power struggle would begin.
Obviously, to the untrained and reactive eyes of the parent they did nothing wrong to the teen and feel this treatment is unfair and a sign of major disrespect, that has to be dealt with immediately. I also don’t blame the parent for feeling this way but having harsh or angry feelings toward your child is never a good thing and no parent walks away form those situations feeling good… Even if you feel your actions and feelings of anger are justified.
Let me break down for you what really happened so you as a parent can have a better understanding of what is happening in hopes to try these tools and have a different result when engaging your stressed out teen.
First, said parent asked questions to their their teenager when the teen was distressed.
Second, there is no way the parent could have known that their teen was stressed because like I said the last communication with their teen everything could have been all good.
(Note: Teens lives and moods can change at light speed! The teen in question could have received a message that disturbed them, read a post that the person they like is in a relationship with someone else or they could have seen a picture of their friends at a function they never got invited to.) So don’t assume that things are all good at the moment you engage them just because they were all good last time you talked.
Third, when a teen is troubled by something they will often react with irritation, withdraw, ignore or dismiss their parents question because their minds can’t seem to deal with one more threat to their way of life.
Fourth, the parents then take that reaction very personal. They themselves show they are agitated and irritated right back at their teen.
Fifth, about this time is when the parent starts to bring out the big guns and starts to make threats of consequences or remind them of all the homework chores and things they haven’t done yet. As you can guess this only agitates the teenager more.
My point is, making statements is a great icebreaker and the best way to check your teenager’s temperature to see if they’re warm for a conversation with you or not. If you make statements like, “Hey, I’m going to be in the kitchen if you happen to want to talk about your day I’d love to listen.” Or, “Not sure if you’re in the mood to talk but if you are I would really like to know how your day went, if not it’s all good sometimes I don’t want to talk about my day when I get home either.”
Instead, I ask all parents reading this blog to make a conscious effort to try to change questions that you would normally ask and put them in the form of a statement. After you start to notice your teenager wanting to engage more in conversation with you even if it’s random conversation and not about the things you were hoping to talk about. That is your signal that they’re warm for a conversation. You can go ahead and start asking questions about their day or whatever it is you were curious about.
Parent that have done this have reported that teens often come back and apologize for being distant, rude or agitated. Then start to share information about the stress they were under that was causing their poor reaction and bad attitude. The shock that the parents would report when they realized their teen who they don’t connect with easily was coming up to them and talking about their life without having to be forced into doing so. Was only outweighed by the comfort these parents felt walking away from that conversation knowing that their kids still love them and have a desire to still share their life with them just like they did so freely when they were young.
If you are wanting to learn more about this topic and other tips, tricks, and strategies be sure to listen to the Light The Fight podcast with me and Heidi Swapp.
If you have questions and would like more info about this blog please feel free to leave a comment below or contact us on Facebook @LightTheFightPodcast on Instagram @LightTheFight or @DavidKoz_ or @HeidiSwapp