Like many parents, my wife and I are apprehensive about the challenges our kids will face as they get closer to their teenage years. As they get older, they’re more likely to face online bullying, relationship issues, and depression. Tweens (11-12) or teenagers (13-19) are also more likely to clam up and not discuss their feelings. This post goes through some strategies of how you can build a strong relationship with your son or daughter so that they will trust you and tell you when something is wrong.
Unwinding comes first, questions later
Have you ever come home from work and your spouse peppers you with questions about your day? Sure, they mean well but all you can think about is relaxing and getting a few minutes of peace. So, you grumble, “It was ok” and slink away to another room. Guess what? Your tween/teen will do the same. They need time to unwind and get a handle on their thoughts before they can face any questions.
Strategies for building the relationship
Unfortunately, even unwinding may not be enough. If you don’t have a strong relationship with your child, they’re unlikely to tell you anything. So, how do you build a relationship?
Below are some strategies you can use and examples:
- Spend time with them in a relaxed activity so they loosen up
- Let them talk about anything they want and avoid the temptation to offer your opinion unless they ask
- When they get relaxed ask open-ended questions and let them talk without interruption
- Ensure that the interaction between you is on a positive tone so that they associate being with you as a pleasant experience
Examples of relationship building in action
My oldest son is very introverted in the house and will gladly spend most of the day in his room. To get him out of his shell and talking I take him out. I will take him out to breakfast, take evening neighborhood walks, and shopping. This gets him relaxed. Once he’s relaxed he starts to talk about anything that’s on his mind. Often it will be video games but he also frequently talks about girls or how other kids act in school. I avoid the temptation to talk and just listen.
When there’s a natural pause in the conversation, I ask an open ended question such as “What do you think you should do?” or “How does that make you feel?” and just let him talk. Sometimes he just shrugs his shoulders and doesn’t reply. That’s ok. Relationship building is a marathon, not a sprint.
We usually end our outing with some funny videos on YouTube or TikTok and I tell him I love him. It’s important to keep it positive.
A strong relationship with your tween/teen is like a shield
Over time a strong relationship can act as a shield against big problems. A colleague of mine, Lisa, has a daughter who had a severe eating disorder. She was excellent at hiding it from everyone. Lisa discovered that her daughter had the disorder during one of their shopping trips. Her daughter opened up as they were trying on clothes. Her daughter was scared and didn’t know how to deal with the issue. By opening up and feeling trust towards her mom, she was able to seek and get help.
I’m very curious about any ideas you may have about building a relationship with your child. Feel free to comment to this blog post.