Communication is an art and a skill. Being a good communicator and being able to have easy, productive and enjoyable conversations is also a skill which we need to learn and practise.
In any conversation there are two roles - the listener and the speaker. For good communication you need to swap over the role of listener and speaker constantly. To have a good conversation it needs to be the right time, not when one of you is busy doing something else, or angry or upset. Your body language also tells the other person if you're listening to them, use it to engage with them. Use reflective and active listening, not interrupting. Leaving physical and verbal space for the other person are all essential.
Think about the conversation you want to have
If you want to communicate with your teenager, it's important to think about what you really want to say and choose your moment. If you want to tell them how fed up you are about something, having that conversation when they are tired or fed up, or already in a mood, will only lead to arguments. If you just want a chat, doing so when they are in the middle of homework due in tomorrow will probably annoy them. Consider the purposes of the following types of conversations.
To organise something - if you're trying to organise something or check out an arrangement. It can take just a few minutes and it is something than can interrupt other issues, or be done as people are about to leave or have just got home. Make it clear that it will only take a short time to discuss and keep to that boundary.
Bonding - bonding conversations can be short and sweet or long and involved. They can need time and space with a cup of coffee to allow you both quality time to talk and listen, and enjoy each other's company. You can also have these kind of conversations while washing up, or on a car journey. Communication that bonds you together can give your teen a chance to open up and tell you important things about themselves and their lives. The important aspect is that you need to seize the opportunity when it arises. If you're always too busy or have other important things to do when your teenager approaches you, you may miss the opportunity. And if there are too many missed opportunities, the window closes.
Just a chat - a chat can be long or short, trivial or have hidden nuggets of important information. Just chatting with your teenager can be as much fun as chatting to a friend, and has as much hidden importance. Chat and gossip can help to bring you together just as much as a more bonding conversation.
Put a name to feelings
When you are trying to communicate with your teenager, it can help to be able to name both your feelings and theirs. We all have feelings - at times we feel happy, sad, angry, rejected and much more. Many of us pick up from our parents and other influences the idea that some feelings are bad, not things we should be feeling. Feeling angry is often seen as unacceptable, so is being jealous. Sometimes we blame others when we have these feelings as we feel guilty, because we think we shouldn't feel like this and must be a bad person.
In reality all feelings are natural and having them is normal. What you can help is what you do about them. Taking your anger out on someone doesn't make you feel better, or deal with the feeling either. However, often you can't deal with the emotion you are feeling because you don't actually know what it is. Teenagers particularly can find it hard to put into words what they are feeling.
Using the following technique you can help anyone to understand and put a name to their feelings. Get some Post-it notes or bits of paper and write on them as many different feelings as you can thing of, or words to describe feelings, such as: abandoned, left out, nervous, tense, glad, loved, safe, quiet, cold, depressed, unwanted, low, worried etc. Stick them on a wall or spread them out on a table. Then think about them, talk through the words to best describe how you are feeling. Once you know what it is, you can discuss why the feelings are there and what you can do about it. Simply acknowledging the real emotion and realising that you don't have to feel guilty for feeling that way can help and often makes the feeling diminish.
It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.
This content was kindly provided by agony aunt and Family Lives trustee Suzy Hayman.