Ten Tips for a Positive Relationship with Your Teenager

I have put together some tips to support you in maintaining a positive relationship with the teenagers in your life. These tips emanate from my clinical practice where I work with teenagers. Please read them as suggestions. Use what you think might work in your life. Where possible, apply them in a way that is consistent with who you are, and how you parent.

  1. If your teen tries to talk to you about their life, do your best to stop what you’re doing and listen. You can always get back to your emails but there is no guarantee that you’ll get this precious moment with your teen back!

  2. Although tempting, try to avoid saying things like “when I was your age…” or “you should do this…” Your job is to support your teen finding out who they are and expressing their authentic self in the world.

  3. Recognise your teen’s positive qualities out loud. For example, “You are kind, thoughtful, creative, funny…” Avoid complimenting beauty and intelligence.

  4. Avoid directly accusing your teens of lying. A more effective response could be, “I hear what you are saying and I am having difficulty believing it.”

  5. If your teenager is emotionally dysregulated and you want to help them find balance, help them identify the feeling(s) they are experiencing, with kindness and interest. For example, “You look frustrated right now. What’s going on for you?” Even if this is not correct and they say, “No, I’m feeling super hurt…” at least you have initiated a dialogue and have helped them (and you) identify a feeling, giving them a platform to express it in a direct way. This often reduces distress.

  6. Rather than reacting to what your teenage boy or girl is saying, listen to how they are saying it. This will validate their feelings and, at the same time, help to regulate them. Your non-reactional response will help them maintain some emotional balance as they navigate their inner storm with you. This also works with your spouse!

  7. Keep family meal times regular and consistent as much as is practically possible. Consider regular evening meals or weekly Sunday meals.

  8. Notice if one or more of your children are occupying all the space in your family conversations. Ask the quieter ones about themselves in a respectful and curious manner. If you don’t get much response the first time, don’t give up. Keep trying. This, at the very least, communicates care and acknowledgement.

  9. Go on occasional family trips together even if you are met with resistance. Instilling this sense of cohesion and togetherness reinforces a sense of belonging, unity, and meaning. Include your step-children. (Be mindful to not treat your step children as second-class citizens. Offer them the same choices presented to your own children. Do your best to make them feel included and valued, this goes a long way in creating family unity and harmony.)

  10. Maintain positive feelings about your teens. Don’t harbour negative feelings.


Relationship as Spiritual Practice:

Relationship as Spiritual Practice:

1.     Every day ask yourself: How can I be more loving? How can I be more kind?

2.     Practice listening, not listening to respond but listening.

3.     Practice not taking what your lover or partner says personally.

4.     When you feel angry come back to the body sensations: “what are you feeling right now?”

5.     Reveal your fear, rather than blaming the other. Remember courage is the ability to be intimate with fear. “I want to grow more than I want to make this point right now.”

6.     Practice being with the unknown, “I don’t know.”

7.     Practice asking yourself: “What can I learn?” and  “What is arising in me?”

8.     Notice repetitive conflicts. In any predictable, repetitive conflict each person is doing something, each is responsible. Instead of buying into one story line or another, ask yourself, “How are we co-creating this?”

9.     Take a time out before you say to your lover what you don’t want to say.

10.  Re-connect with your intention for this relationship. What is this relationship for?

What are you grateful for?

Gratitude and appreciating what is good in our lives can safeguard against depression, says Mark Williams, mindfulness teacher and psychologist.

Think of 10 things that you are grateful for today. They can be big or small, but make them particular about today.

 

Emotional Literacy & Mindfulness Meditation

"Emotional literacy, perhaps the most important skill for growing into a happy and successful adult, is the ability to regulate and understand emotions. Children who can regulate their emotions are better at soothing themselves when they are upset, which means that they experience negative emotions for a shorter period of time. In addition, "emotionally literate children understand and relate to people better, form stronger friendships and do better in school" - Christine Carter PhD is a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley’s Science Center.

Mindfulness is a current hot topic as it offers a simple, practical (and often free way) of managing our emotions and finding some internal peace and calm, in an increasingly stressful and fast-paced world that actually works.

Mindfulness and I did not fall in love at first sight. Mindfulness was in my field for a long time before I tried it, and I tried it many times (and attempted to read a number of books on mindfulness) before I found anything of personal value. However what had struck me at the time was the quality of the people that I met who practiced mindfulness. Often they were fellow colleagues or professors , who appeared to have this quality of peace, lightness and joy of countenance. Was it the effect of long-term mindfulness or something else? "I really should try it," I told myself. The trouble was every time I tried to practice mindfulness I found myself profoundly bored.

Boredom is one of the most uncomfortable feelings for me. I know from the rare moments I have forced myself, or been forced to "be with" my boredom that it is connected to an inner sense of self deficiency and the belief that if I am bored then I am lacking in resourcefulness and creativity. "Only the bored are boring," I was told as a child, "Do something." So I did.

For a long time, it took a great deal for me not to do anything. To sit and be with myself and my feelings was incredibly hard but I have found that if I can break through the superficial fear and boredom—like cracking a thick layer of ice—it feels so good. I can stop running on my hamster wheel and touch my inner depths and this sweet, dark, peace that trickles out when I let myself be, simply noticing my experience. Luckily, I now notice pretty quickly my manic part surface as I watch myself being "productive." I know from experience that this is not productive even if it appears so.

Rushing is an old habit of mine. In my primary school reports teachers repeatedly said, "Alexandra rushes her work, she needs to slow down!" As a child I was told not to rush all the time, in the street, on projects, in class… I wanted to get this thing done so I could do something else. But this became such a pervasive habit that I wasn’t enjoying anything. I was doing, doing, doing and rushing through all of it, just to get onto the next thing. This is a stressful way to live.

I have spent a decade practicing the ancient healing techniques of yoga, tai chi, meditation and other disciplines that focus on the breath. These have helped me slowly unravel my habit of rushing. Rushing is a coping mechanism a defense against feeling. For me it was a defense against feeling anxiety.

The Most Anti-intuitive Approach Is the One that Works
This approach is to acknowledge the feeling that is there and meet it. Like you would a guest that leaves you feeling uncomfortable. Be polite, look them in the eye and say hello. You don’t have to chat for long but acknowledge their existence and watch what they stir up in you. Try it for a few seconds. You don’t have to like it, it’s only for a few seconds. This approach takes a good amount of courage and some inner resources. Being with the anxiety or unwanted feeling is the only thing that I’ve found truly effective. Sure, you can try (and we often do) to suppress or control it with food, herbal remedies, medication, drugs, and/or alcohol but they don’t help for long and then the feeling returns often stronger than before, only now you have another layer to deal with and this comes with a host of its own problems.

You could think of mindfulness & meditation like pulling out the plug on a bath of constantly running water. If you don’t pull the plug out, the water will overflow. Mindfulness and meditation is one effective way of doing this. Yet we have a great deal of fear and resistance about exploring our inner world and being with ourselves for even a few moments. It took me a long time to realize that I wouldn’t die if I actually felt and the world wouldn’t end if my heart broke. So how do we cope with the realities as sensitive, intuitive beings? How do we become more open to loving each other rather than creating more layers and shells that disconnect us from ourselves and others? We take a deep breath and feel what we don’t want to.

10 Steps to An Easier Divorce ∼ For Your Child

Many psychological studies suggest that “most children of divorced parents develop in healthy ways, when the parents are attuned to the child’s response and remain emotionally available in spite of their own distress.”[1] This short article aims to help parents be more aware of and responsive to their child’s emotional experience; so that despite the challenges of divorce, parents are able to encourage their child’s healthy emotional and relational development. The quality of children’s early relationships with their parents has a direct impact on the health of their adult relationships.

1)   Let your child know in simple language what is going on in the family. Children pick up on unspoken emotions and are affected by them even if they may not be able to articulate them. (Children are more perceptive and receptive than most adults realize.)

2)   Be open to explicit and implicit questions your child may have about your separation or divorce. You may find that talking about daddy or mummy not being at home any more will be awkward at first but in time it will foster deep trust between you and your child.

3)   Empathize with your child’s anger and sadness around no longer living with one parent, and the loss of the family as a unit. Your child missing the parent that no longer lives with them is an entirely natural response. Try not to take it personally. Perhaps agree on regular times for the absent parent to call, or when the child is really missing them be open to them calling your ex (especially when the separation is new).

4)   Listen to your child’s fears and concerns. Don’t try and solve them, or take them personally. Just be present to what your child is feeling. You can try this with yourself also!

5)   Do not criticize your ex partner in front of your child. No exceptions! Even if they are late for pick ups and drop offs and are driving you crazy, do not speak negatively about them to your child. Work through your feeling towards your ex in therapy or with a friend (when your child is not around).

6)   In fact speak positively about your ex in front of your child and support their relationship with them. Remember that your child having a good relationship with their other parent is important for their emotional and psychological wellbeing.

7)   Be clear that the emotions alive between you and your ex partner are not caused by your child. For example, “Your mum and I are angry at each other right now, we are not angry with you.” Toddlers often assume they have caused events due to their self-focused stage of psychological development.

8)   During family separation and divorce, small children often develop anxiety around being left or no longer loved by their parents. Address this directly by explaining and reassuring your child that even though Mummies and Daddies can fall out of love and leave each other, Mummies and Daddies don’t stop loving or permanently leave their children. Remind your child that they were made “in love”, when daddy and mummy loved each other.

9)   Practice kindness and patience with your child and yourself. Life happens, relationships fall apart for all sorts of reasons. This is not evidence that you are a bad parent. In fact if you can be emotionally available to your child and model for them how to navigate challenging life transitions and uncomfortable emotions you are actually teaching them resilience and internal strength.

10)          Read Dinosaurs Divorce by Laurene Krasny Brown with your child. It is an excellent resource to help your kid understand the complex emotional experience they are having.

 

[1] Dr. A. Lieberman (1993). The Emotional Life of the Toddler. New York: The Free Press.

Attachment

"The type of attachment relationship formed between a parent and their infant has a powerful influence on the potential health, social and economic opportunities of that child throughout their lifetime. This is particularly remarkable given that the template for a child's attachment relationship style is largely determined before the age of 2. Attachment style has an impact on a huge variety of psycho-social outcomes including academic achievements, martial satisfaction, likelihood of criminal involvement, mental health and quality of relationship with their own children, as well as physical health outcomes including childhood infections, asthma, cancer and diabetes.

"There is complex interplay between a baby's experiences and their neurological development with optimal development being more likely where a parent is physically and psychologically available, attuned to the infants needs and able to hold the child in mind. It is sensitive interaction with a caregiver that teaches a child to regulate their physiological arousal level, recognize their emotions and to mentalize/understand minds.

"The caregiver relationship helps the child to develop these complex reflective skills in the prefrontal areas of the brain. The child also learns their social skills from those they see demonstrated around them and their cognitive and language development can be helped or hindered by the stimulation and interactions they experience."

By Dr. Miriam Silver from her article "Differential Assessment"

Mental Health

"Mental health depends upon the maintenance of a balance within the personality between the basic human urges and egocentric wishes on the one hand, and the demands of conscience and society on the other hand.

"Under ordinary circumstances we are not aware of these two forces within our personality. But in times of conflict an impulse or a wish arises which conflicts with the standards of conscience or which for other reasons cannot be gratified in reality. In such instances we are aware of conflict and the ego takes over the role of judge or mediator between these two opposing forces. A healthy ego behaves like a fair minded judge and works to find solutions that satisfy both parties to the dispute. It allows satisfaction when this does not conflict with conscience or social requirements and flexibly permits indirect satisfactions when judgement rules otherwise." 

Excerpt from The Magic Years by Selma H Fraiberg

Self Esteem

"Viewing self esteem as having foundational elements rather than as being one global self esteem 'pot' offers greater potential for change and wellbeing… Levels of self-esteem within different elements fluctuate quite naturally throughout life, sometimes because of major events but also according to the particular situation we are in, the attitude of key people in our lives and the task we are undertaking. These fluctuations are linked with the way in which we evaluate our self concept usually in comparison with our ideal self. Our self concept is the overall view we have of ourselves. This includes our appearance, ability, temperament, attitudes and beliefs. This overall view is heavily influenced by the way we interpret feedback from other people--the way we perceive their reactions to what we do and say--and this process begins with our earliest interactions as babies...

"By conveying genuine respect and interest in their (children's) feelings, views and dilemmas we can show them that they are valued for who they are not what they can do."

Deborah Plummer from her article: Supporting healthy self-esteem.

Beginnings & Endings

"Before we embark on any new venture, we weigh up whether it is worth taking the risk to face the as yet unknown. In spite of all the limitations and frustrations of our present life, sticking to the same role, the same way of conducting our individual and institutional life may feel easier, a safer option. The saying Better the devil you know - than the one you don't, gives expression to the feeling that however uncomfortable and unsatisfactory our present state at least it is known, while the unknown holds the potential of danger… Change is threatening; it needs faith, hope and courage to embrace new experience. 

"Most beginnings require us not only to let go of what we are familiar with but also relinquish something that we value or some advantage associated with a previous state. We may look forward to the gain that we hope will accompany every new stage of development yet at the same time some good aspects of the previous phase may have to be relinquished. These losses are likely to make us anxious and angry at a time when we might expect to be happy. Resentment at what has to be given up may seriously interfere with the enjoyment of what the new step we have taken may have to offer.

"Yet being able to be aware of and face these losses allows us to some extent to prepare ourselves mentally and emotionally. If we avoid doing so it makes us even more prone to being overwhelmed by panic when the dreaded event actually occurs. We may feel ashamed of the emotional turmoil we find ourselves in, be reluctant to admit it to ourselves and inclined to try and run away form it. Alternatively we might be over-whelmed by our painful, disturbing emotional state but fear that there is no one who can tolerate our fears, anger, grief, depression and despair. All this may make us reluctant to communicate, to share our feelings with others. There may be no partner, friend, colleague willing to listen, for many people are afraid that they will be infected by another person's painful emotional state. Much suffering therefore goes on silently with individuals being left to manage their pain on their own, making it all harder to bear. We may try and run away from the pain of loss but unless we have lost or are about to lose, we will not be able to internalize/preserve within ourselves what has been of value in the past as well as trying to avoid what is painful by blaming others we tend to project into others the unwanted destructive aspects of ourselves...

"The dread evoked by even ordinary endings becomes understandable if we realize that they stir up fears of the loss of security, of being abandoned, left to die. These powerful feelings stem from earliest infancy, the time when our life of being carried in the womb comes to an end and the cord connecting us to mother is cut. Equally our excitement and anxieties at beginnings has its roots in the experience of the newborn opening his eyes to a whole new world, one that as well as being terrifyingly unfamiliar is also full of wonder and beauty. I believe that human beings have from the very beginning of life a need and capacity to seek connections. The newborn cut off at birth from the physical connection with mother, the source of his life, seeks to reconnect to the mother's body and her resources. With mother's help and understanding he uses his sensual and mental equipment to gradually explore and understand what he encounters outside and within himself. The anger and anxiety caused by being weaned needs to be understood and the baby helped to see that mother is still available and loves him. The child gradually becomes aware of wider connections, the interdependence of mother and father, of the family and others in the outside world, and at some later stage of human life and the environment...

"Not only is the infant extremely sensitive to the emotional life within mother conveyed to him in a myriad of ways but he also becomes highly receptive to the responses evoked by his own actions, his physical and emotional communication. I believe human beings have an inborn moral sense a conscience that even in babyhood can make us concerned at the damage inflicted by greed and destructiveness in action or phantasy. In contrast, the connectedness of something within, and beyond ourselves that is creative, life enhancing, fills us with wonder.

Isca Salzberger-Wittenberg