By Carol Sue Shride
Your daughter just turned 12 (or 11 or 13). Seemingly overnight she’s gone from the sweet, innocent child who wants to cuddle in your lap during a thunderstorm to a growling bundle of mixed messages and raging emotions and you wonder “What happened?” Welcome to puberty! It’s likely she doesn’t know what hit her either as hormones and chemicals race through her rapidly changing system and her brain develops and matures the frontal cortex through pruning and milenation.
Although the next several years can be difficult and demanding for both of you, there are several things you can do to smooth her transition to adulthood and preserve the love you have shared for the first decade of her journey. Here are my top six recommendations to maintain or improve your relationship with your daughter and insure she feels loved and supported as she goes through her physical and emotional challenges.
Change your mindset.
This is probably the most difficult step for mothers but it is one of the most important. You have to understand and accept that your daughter is not a child any longer. She is growing into an independent, mature human being and the sooner you begin treating her as such, the better your relationship will be. I believe this is why the mentoring relationship works so well for teenage girls. There is no history between the adult and the youth so the mentor really sees the teen as the young person they are and can treat them as such.
Learn to really listen.
This is the second most important tool in improving your relationship with your teenager. How often does she want to talk or tell you something and you’re too busy? How often do you say, “In a minute?” when she wants to engage you? How often do you read your emails or wash the dishes or do some other task when she’s wanting to connect? It’s no wonder our children finally give up and don’t want to talk to us by the time they are teenagers! Stop what you are doing when they want to talk. Look them in the eye and pay attention to what they are saying. Don’t try to fix things for them (think tip #1). Let them vent and express what they are feeling. Echo back what you hear them say. When they feel heard and understood, they might ask for advice. Don’t hold your breath, they might not! They are learning how to handle their own problems and issues.
Discover their love language and use it.
Do you know your child’s love language? Is it words, touch, quality time, gifts or acts of service? Did you know your teen’s primary love language may be different from their primary love language as a child? Discover and use their love language and you will see an amazing difference in the attitude of your teenager and in your relationship. This is based on Gary Chapman’s, The Five Love Languages of Teenagers. Get a copy of the book, read it and do what it says! You won’t be sorry.
This one may not seem at first glance to be a tip to help with your relationship with your teenager. After all, it’s about you. However, one of the things that frustrates and angers teens most is hypocrisy or BS and they have a built in radar for detecting it. Be who you are. Be real. Do not be afraid to verbalize your own range of emotions including frustration, anger, disappointment, sadness, happiness, joy, excitement, and worry. Daughters who see emotions appropriately expressed as a normal part of living feel supported and free to explore their own full range of emotions. Also, be willing to show your teenager your strengths as well as your weaknesses. Think they don’t already know both? They absolutely do and pretending you don’t have challenges or not acknowledging your strengths only puts a wall up between you and your teenager because they know you are not being authentic.
Again, you may wonder what this has to do with opening up or improving my relationship with my teenager? It has everything. If you can’t handle rejection, what happens when your teen starts testing their personal boundaries and rejects the hug or back rub you used to give them as a child? Do you know how to express your anger appropriately and healthily? If not, how can you expect your young person to be able to handle theirs well without a good role model? Are you able to handle the big stressors that happen in life. Again, how can the young people in your life learn to manage their stress without a role model or teacher? How many times did you hear as a child, “do as I say, not as I do?” and how many times did that frustrate or anger you? Well, it’s the same with your teenager. If we want them to listen to us and take our advice, they must trust us. If we tell them not to drink, but drink ourselves, they will not respect us. If we watch bad programs on television, how can we expect them to watch good programs and listen to good music? So keep working on yourself through books, classes, coaching and counseling.
Don’t Give Up.
Know there is no perfect parent – anywhere. You’re going to make mistakes, probably a lot of them. You’re human. Lighten up on yourself and keep on trying. Let your teenager know you love them and you’re doing the best you can and that you won’t give up on yourself or them or your relationship.
Here are some resources I have found helpful in my parenting journey:
Carol Sue Shride is the author of Rocky Mountain Beginnings the first book in the young adult series Lucy Dakota: Adventures of a Modern Explorer and owner of My Piece of the Puzzle Publishing. I have a master’s degree in elementary education, am a mother of an 11-year-old going on 18, mentor to a 15-year-old, and have been a business owner and educator most of my adult life. I focus on improving the relationship between mothers and their teenage daughters.