Communication: The link to healthy choices for teens

As a child ages and enters their teen years, parents may find it more difficult to talk to them about making healthy choices. This may be because children, at this age, are beginning to make their own decisions about what matters most to them, including choices that affect their health and well-being.

So, as a parent, how can you develop a pattern of communication to help your teenager realize that making healthy and safe decisions about their well-being, including recognizing and avoiding risky behaviors, eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep, is important?

Intentionally create an environment that promotes trust and communication.

Plan to have regular check-ins with your child to discuss daily needs and how those needs can be met. Check-ins can address simple needs like who is picking your child up from school that day or taking them to practice. Those interactions can help create an environment in which your child feels comfortable approaching you, and your child’s feeling of safety may, then, lead to discussions around difficult topics and situations.

Spend quality family time together. Plan time for your family to have fun and enjoy each other – go for a hike, play board games, or plan a vacation together.

Create routines and rituals that emphasize your love, respect, acceptance, and support of one another. Participating in routines, rituals, and shared activities can generate conversations and offer you opportunities to use positive communication skills to encourage your child, promote family togetherness, and create memories.

Establish boundaries and guidelines that will help cultivate open discussions. Boundaries can help you and your child understand and learn positive communication skills. For example, you and your child can negotiate rules and expectations. However, let your child know that safety issues, like not being allowed to go for a run outside after dark, are not negotiable.

Use positive language to avoid being argumentative.

Use I-statements. I-statements help your child understand what you are feeling without making them feel judged. For example, “I am concerned about your health because you don’t eat anything until dinnertime.”

Be mindful of your non-verbal language.

Body language. Make sure your gestures, facial expressions, posture, and eye contact match what you are saying.

Paraverbal language. Consider the tone of your voice, the rate of the gestures, the words you say, and the amount of eye contact you use to help your child understand the true intention of what you are saying.

Actively listen to your child.

Be present and limit distractions. Put down your phone, turn off the television, or stop doing the laundry, and give your child your undivided attention. Showing your teen that you care about them and what they say is important is a great way to promote the trust that is needed to create and maintain a positive parent-child relationship.

Listen with intention. Focus on the moment – don’t think about your response or other issues that may be occurring that day – and don’t assume you know what your child is going to say. Just listen.

Withhold judgment. When listening to your adolescent, do not make immediate judgments on their words or actions – listen to the whole story. Your child should feel that their thoughts and feelings are valid and deserve consideration.

Clarify what your child is saying by paraphrasing their words. When you’re communicating with your adolescent, sometimes what you mean and what your child hears are two different things. Or vice versa, sometimes what your child means and what you hear are two different things. Practice this skill with your child by clarifying what was said through repetition. For example, “What I hear you saying is you can’t get to bed on time because you have too much homework to do.”

Integrating these strategies and skills into your interactions with your child can help you build a respectful pattern of communication in your parent-child relationship. By doing this, you may find it easier to talk with your child about topics like making healthy and safe decisions. Remember, change doesn’t happen overnight. Continue to work on your communication strategies with your teen and practice them daily to help create and maintain open and positive communication in your parent-child relationship.

Family Meetings

Many families may think family time is having a meal together, watching a favorite television show, or even going on a new family adventure. While each of these activities is family time and is important, having intentional family time, called the family meeting, is also important. Family meetings are planned or short-notice conversations, and each family member should be included. During these meetings, families talk about issues that are relevant to the family, such as rules, expectations, or upcoming events. These meetings can help keep a family organized and on the same page. They also can encourage a family to celebrate accomplishments and achievements together.

Regularly holding family meetings helps children understand they are part of a connected unit, and each family member can have an impact on how the household operates and succeeds.  During family meetings, children should have a chance to talk through issues and use their listening skills as they hear others talk through different topics. Hearing, and being part of, healthy conversations will help your child develop positive communication techniques.

At times, children or youth may feel that some of their thoughts are uncomfortable to discuss. Family meetings can provide a safe environment for children to broach difficult issues and explore topics through discussion without feeling judged. By facilitating these types of discussion, you are offering your child an opportunity to learn how to listen without judgment and respect others’ viewpoints.

Try some of the tips below for your own family meetings:

  • Create guidelines for family meetings
  • Decide when and where meetings will be held. Make sure all family members are free to attend during the meeting time.
  • Anyone in the family is allowed to call a meeting. Find ways to make your children or youth feel comfortable in suggesting a family meeting takes place. One idea is to have them call a meeting when they bring up a topic that could benefit from the whole household’s input.
  • All family members should be invited to family meetings. Ensure each family member has a chance to speak and understands what decisions have been made and why and how these decisions were made.
  • Have routine family meetings
  • Family meetings should not always be about concerns or negative decisions or crises. Family meetings could provide opportunities to plan vacations, outings, celebrations, or family members’ accomplishments, or it could be a time to discuss next week’s dinner menu.
  • Prepare an agenda, and ensure everyone sees it before the meeting. All family members should have the opportunity to know what topics are going to be discussed, so they may gather their thoughts, concerns, and solutions prior to the meeting.
  • Make family meetings a positive interaction
  • Start the meeting on a positive note. Even if the meeting is being called to discuss a crisis, incorporate positivity. One way to do this is to note a family member’s accomplishment that has happened since the previous meeting.
  • Everyone should be allowed to talk. All family members should be heard, even if some opinions and ideas do not align with someone else’s thoughts and feelings.
  • Everyone should practice active listening. Hearing what a person says is an important part of communication.
  • Negative comments and put-downs should not be tolerated. If the tone of the meeting starts to become negative, pause and give everyone a chance to calm down. Then, resume the meeting at a later time.
  • When possible, put thoughts and concerns to a family vote. After hearing everyone’s thoughts, if appropriate, let the family vote on the decision.
  • Develop an Action Plan and use it. An Action Plan is one, or a series, of steps that will be executed to accomplish a goal. The action plan should be adopted by the family as a unit. A follow-up meeting may need to be held to evaluate how the Action Plan is going or determine if any changes need to be made.

 

 

 

Actively Listening to your Adolescent

Quality communication is a critical part of successful parenting, and active listening is an important component of positive and productive communication with your adolescent. Active listening is making a conscious effort to hear the words your adolescent is saying and to understand the entire message he or she is conveying.

There are four key steps to being a successful active listener.

Be present and limit distractions.

Showing your adolescent that he or she has your undivided attention helps your child understand that how they feel and what they are saying is important to you. Be sure to concentrate on what is being said. By including nonverbal gestures that show you’re listening, like nodding or smiling, your adolescent may feel more willing to share with you and be open with you (Vitalaki, & Katsarou, 2021).

Do not interrupt.

While your adolescent is speaking, concentrate on his or her words and do not think about your response. If you are formulating your reply, your attention will be distracted, and you may miss key points. Wait until your adolescent has finished speaking, or better yet, ask him or her if he or she is finished speaking before you respond.

Withhold judgment.

When listening to your adolescent, do not make judgments on the words or actions; make a point to hear the whole story. It is important for your child to feel that his or her thoughts and feelings are valid and deserve consideration.

Paraphrase what was said.

When talking with your adolescent, repeat what he or she said by using statements like, “I hear you saying…” and “It sounds like you feel…” followed by “Does that sound right?” Paraphrasing shows your adolescent that you understand or don’t understand what he or she said, which will allow your child to clarify points for you.

Actively listening to your adolescent can help create a safe and trusting communication environment where your child feels heard and understood. As a result of the trust that is built, you may be better able to prevent or diffuse conflict and understand your child’s needs, so you can find solutions together.

References

Vitalaki, E., & Katsarou, E. (2021). Active listening: A model for teachers and parents to actively listen and act upon children’s concerns in terms of their perceptions of quality of life. In F.N. Valanidou, L. Neophytou, M. Anatasou & M. Koutselini (Eds.), Children’s life quality: Participation, recreation, and play (pp. 74-104). University of Cyprus; Center for Social Innovation.