In my parenting class, I talk about the 3 C’s of parenting teens—remain CALM, stay CONNECTED, and be CURIOUS. In this blogpost, I want to focus on being curious because if you take this approach in parenting your teen (or even your young adult), it will force you to slow down and think (what can I ask?). This might give you space to get calm, which will probably lead to a more respectful tone that will enhance your connection with your adolescent. So, being curious is key.
How can you develop your skill in this area? First, you need to reframe your role with your teen/young adult. If you haven't already, you will soon be fired from your role as manager by your teen. Your ability to control was an illusion anyway. But your ability to influence remains strong. Being willing to accept your new consulting role and gain the skills necessary to shift into this role (active listening, discovery questioning, sharing power) is a good start! As parenting expert, Michael Riera says, "Clinging to pseudo-power over a teenager is what inadvertently leads him into accepting sneakiness and lying as viable strategies within the parent-adolescent relationship."
Gaining skill in being a parent-coach is a lifetime process, but one worth your engagement and energy. It starts with listening. Listen first, then respond. Why? Active listening gets to the core of the situation more quickly. It also increases trust and enhances your relationship with your teen. Not convinced?
Consider this scenario: Imagine you've come home after a bad day at work. You're totally exhausted. You talk to three people. One says, "You think you had a bad day?! That's nothing compared to mine." Another says, "Why did you let that happen? You should never have let that person dump on you that way. You should have put your foot down...walked away...yada, yada, yada...." The third person responds simply, "I'm so sorry. What happened?"
How do you react to each of these people? Which statements make you feel better or worse? Which ones make you want to talk? Which ones shut you down?
Then when it comes to your teen's response, remain curious, keep listening, and ask discovery questions. Here are some examples:
- How do you feel about this? …or, What is your biggest concern/fear?
- What do you want to have happen? …or, What would you do if you knew you could not fail? …or, In a perfect world, what would you want to happen?
- What are some other options? …or, What choices do you have? …or, What would you suggest? …or, What would you do differently if you tapped into your own wisdom?
- What is it that I am missing/misunderstanding? Say more about… or, Tell me more.
- What have you already tried?
- What seems to be getting in the way of getting what you want?
- What do you think is the best thing that could happen? …the worst? …what would better look like?
- What do you think is the most important thing to do here?
- What do you need most right now? …or, What kind of support do you need right now? …or, What do you need from me?
- Is there anything else you want to say that you haven’t said?...or, Is there anything you wished I had said or asked you about?
And, when you are in a situation where your son or daughter is emotionally distressed and you don’t want to hop on that roller-coaster and make things worse, author and psychologist, Lisa Damour, PhD, suggests you ask, “Is there anything I can do or say that won’t make things worse?”[i] According to Damour, it communicates that you understand that your teen’s distress is real, that you are not going to try to talk her out of her feelings (nor are you frightened of them), and you can live with your inability to make things better.
The value of the coach approach is reflected in this Parenting approaches chart. As author Barbara McRae, MCC, suggests in Coach Your Teen to Success: "When parents make a commitment to becoming parent coaches, they take themselves out of the adversarial relationships they may have become stuck in. As a result, they can suddenly find that teens are interesting people. And teenagers get even more benefits because they are able to navigate the path from childhood to adulthood with the assistance of a wise and helpful guide."[i]Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, p. 102.