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Last Updated on November 22, 2018

17 Tactics to Drastically Improve Communication in Relationships

17 Tactics to Drastically Improve Communication in Relationships

You’re talented, you have great ideas and you’re hard working, but you’re often unrecognized, misunderstood and taken for granted.

Whether it’s in your personal or work relationships, you find yourself frustrated at how often people can misinterpret what you have to say.

If only there was something people could do to read your mind and feel your emotions. Right?

Sorry. While something like this doesn’t exist there is the next best thing, which is to take some simple strategies to improve your communication in relationships.

Why communication fails

The amygdala, which is also known as the “lizard brain” is an almond shaped part of your brain that’s is constantly on the lookout for anything that may be harmful to you. It basically is concerned for your survival.

And while it looks out for your physical survival such as in moments where there’s a rattlesnake in your path during a hike, it also looks out for your emotional survival.

This is why when someone says something that offends you, it triggers your amygdala and you become defensive as a result. It becomes this attack and defend battle between the two of you.

And as I’m sure you’ve experienced, when you are defensive during a conversation, nothing usually ends up getting resolved. The damage is done, feelings are hurt, and the relationship starts to become broken.

But here’s the thing:

In order to improve your communication, you must first learn how to help people feel safe to talk with you by implementing ways to calm their amygdalas in order to help them be open to having genuine conversations.

Tactics to improve communication in relationships

Below are 17 ways you can help improve your communication in relationships to cultivate safe spaces, feel more connected and strengthen your bonds.

Note: While I use the word “partner” to refer to the person you are communicating with, these techniques apply to all kinds of relationship whether it’s meeting someone new, an acquaintance or a long-time friend.

1. Show your hands

According to Vanessa Van Edwards, author of the book Captivate, eye tracking studies have shown that the first thing people actually look at when meeting someone new are their hands.

While most would think it’s the eyes, mouth or face, the reason why we first look at the hands is to quickly check if we are physically safe with the person.

“The reason for [checking the hands] is because of something we are not consciously aware of, which is when we can’t see someone’s hands the fear part of our amygdala begins to activate.” -Vanessa Van Edwards

Van Edwards shared some fascinating research that showed when defendants put their hands in their lap or their pockets where jurors can’t see them, jurors rate those defendants as more sneaky, untrustworthy and difficult to get along with.

Having your hands visible is simply as practical as showing the other person that you don’t have a weapon in your hands. So whether you are speaking publicly, meeting someone new, or catching up with a friend, be sure to show them.

What to do?

Refrain from putting your hands in your pockets or behind your back when speaking with someone. It may make them feel like you have something to hide.

Use your hands to acknowledge the other person whether it’s a wave or a handshake to help. This helps the person subconsciously put his/her guard down.

2. Touch each other

There’s a famous story about when Harvard professor, Nathan Fox, PhD stepped into a Romanian orphanage and noticed how silent it was in a room full of infants. He realized this was because the babies cries were not being responded to ever since their arrivals to the point that they gave up crying to express their needs.

The infants were always in their cribs except when they needed to be fed, bathed or changed.

One of the key components missing in the care of these children was touch. There was no daily interaction holding and snuggling these children to bond with them.

Evidence showed significant results of these children being much more developmentally delayed later in life compared to other children who grew up in loving families.

Science shows that human touch triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin, which is the “love hormone”. It’s what helps you experience the feelings of trust, devotion and bonding. It has also been shown to help you decrease stress levels.[1]

What to do?

Incorporate more appropriate physical interactions in your conversations. A simple handshake will do for people who you are not as close with.

For closer friends, you may want to incorporate more hugs. For your partners, feel free to incorporate more snuggling, massages and caressing.

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3. Use softeners before questioning

Asking questions are important to help you understand where your partner is coming from, but if you ask them in the wrong way, it may trigger a defensive response.

It’s important to make sure you don’t sound like you’re interrogating the person, but rather show that you are genuinely interested in learning more about the other person’s story and feelings.

One way to help your partner feel more open to answering your questions without getting defensive is by using softeners for your questions to show that the question is coming from a place of curiosity rather than accusation.

What to do?

Start your questions with phrases like “Out of curiosity…” or “Just to make sure I’m on the same page…” will help prevent the other person from getting defensive.

Rather than starting the question with “Why” start the question with “What”. For example, instead of asking “Why would you do that?” you can ask “What made you do that?”. Or to make it even more gentle, you can ask, “What about the situation you were in made you do that?”

4. Keep things simple

Have you ever had someone try to explain something to you and it was beyond your understanding?

We all think differently and sometimes it’s hard to communicate something to other people, especially if you have different personal and professional backgrounds.

The reason for this is what Chip and Dan Heath calls the “curse of knowledge” where you are so engulfed in your world that you can’t help but use insider language when trying to explain something to someone who is not familiar with what you do.

This is why it’s important to be familiar with who you are talking to. While you may speak to a coworker one way, you may need to explain things differently to a friend when trying to explain the same thing.

What to do?

Avoid using insider language that the average person may not understand.

When explaining something that you are much more fluent in than the other person, practice explaining things in a way that anyone can understand. Here’s an example:

Complicated: “Today I cared for my first patient in the ER and I literally saw the dopaminergic effects of the vasopressor we gave as it brought his heart rate and MAP back up”

Simple: “I cared for my first patient in the emergency room today and saw how the drug we gave him instantly saved his life”

Make sure you don’t explain things in a condescending manner. It may be frustrating sometimes when it takes some time for someone to understand what you’re trying to explain, but view it as you are informing a smart person rather than helping a slow person catch up.

5. Create “Me too” moments

It’s easy to get caught up in talking about yourself without even noticing if the other person is interested or not. This tends to happen especially when you have something exciting to share.

What most people don’t realize is great communicators know how to seek out and create moments that get the other person thinking in their brain “Oh my Gosh, me too!”

This helps promote a sense of bonding and openness that creates a space for better communication.

What to do?

As you listen to the other person during a conversation, take mental notes. What kinds of things does he get excited to talk about? What kind of background and worldview does he have? Then start asking questions about those topics and start a discussion.

Even if you’re the one doing the talking, it’s a great idea to pay attention to the other person’s non-verbal language to see if they are resonating or connecting with what you are sharing.

If they seem interested, give them a moment to reply and share back with you on how they can relate. If they seem disinterested, turn the conversation around and ask questions about them to see if there’s anything they say that will make you say “Me too!”

6. Only interrupt when absolutely necessary

You probably know what it feels like when you are in the middle of sharing something and someone excitedly interrupts you because they have something they want to say. The conversation gets hijacked and is turned over to the other person without you ever getting to finish what you wanted to say.

When you are interrupting someone, it clearly shows two things:

Firstly, you are not listening but you’re rather waiting for the opportunity to blurt out something that you were thinking about.

Secondly, you are more focused on your own thoughts rather than those of the person speaking.

What to do?

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Wait for the other person to finish speaking. The only time it may be appropriate to interrupt someone is if you are in a time sensitive situation and things are starting to go off topic.

Practice active listening. Try not to worry about a witty reply to say but instead pay attention to what the other person is trying to express. Then take a moment to take it in and respond.

7. Mirror your partner’s brain

The two halves of your brain operate very differently. Your right hemisphere is the emotional side of your brain and your left brain is the logical side.

It’s important to know which part of the brain your partner is speaking from so you can respond appropriately.

For example, imagine you wanted to share about how horrible your day was at work and your partner just replied with suggestions on things you should’ve done differently without acknowledging your feelings.

Or on the flip side, imagine you just need to figure out how to fix a leaky pipe in the house and your partner begins to ask you how you’re feeling about it.

This is why it’s important to use the same side of your brain that your partner is using in order to connect and improve your communication.

What to do?

Listen to your partner and identify which half of the brain s/he is speaking from. Ask yourself, is s/he trying to express a feeling to you or trying to figure out something with you?

If the conversation is about trying to find an answer to a specific problem or question, then respond accordingly with your logical side by brainstorming together.

If the conversation is about a story your partner is trying to tell you that shows how s/he feels, respond with your emotional side with empathy and validate their feelings.

8. Communicate your feelings through stories.

When you tell someone you’re feeling angry, that person will be able to observe the fact that you are in an angry state, but that’s about as far as it will go.

If however, you share a story about how your boss made a rude and inaccurate comment at you in front of all the staff, your partner can picture him or herself in your shoes and understand what it may feel like.

This is why we can get lost in a great movie. Stories have the power to bring you into someone else’s experiences.

Most importantly, it helps people feel what you feel.

What to do?

Practice expressing your experiences and feelings through stories. Try to be detailed.

For example, don’t just say you had a bad day. Share the specific details on what happened:

  • Who was there?
  • How did you feel when it happened?
  • What do you think caused it?

9. Give lots of micro positive expressions

Influential psychologist, Dr. Paul Ekman, helped coined the term “micro expressions.”[2] He defines it as involuntary facial expressions that occur within 1/25th of a second which can accurately reflect a person’s true emotions.

These micro expressions can be either positive or negative and research has shown the compelling impact that they have on other people.

Vanessa Van Edwards shared that studies showed employees who received micro negative expressions from their managers performed much worse than employees who received micro positives expressions despite the manager’s proud claims that he treats all employees equally.

Micro expressions are exactly the reason why sometimes you can sense if a job interview went well or not.

Whether it’s a quick rolling of your eyes, a scowl, or scrunched up eyebrows, these are all micro negative behaviors that may cause your partner to feel unsafe to connect with you.

Micro positive expressions such as authentic smiles, nods, and leaning in will help your partner feel more open to communicate with you.

What to do?

  • Lean in to show your partner you are engaged and ready to listen to what s/he has to say.
  • Nod during the conversation to show you are listening.
  • Relax your body and roll your shoulders back.
  • Respond with smiles when appropriate.

10. Give your undivided attention

Imagine you’re at dinner with your partner and s/he’s sharing something important with you, but you find yourself getting constantly distracted.

There are so many things competing for your attention, whether it’s your phone buzzing, the people that are passing by, or all the hustle and bustle going on off in the distance in the restaurant.

When you get distracted, it’s easy for other people to notice and this can trigger your partner’s amygdala to either angrily fight for your attention or disengage from you. Either way, this doesn’t promote a safe space for good communication.

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What to do?

Try to eliminate any distractions to the best of your ability:

  • Turn your phone face down and put it on silent.
  • Maintain eye contact. Doing so releases oxytocin in the brain and cultivate trust and connection.[3]
  • During important conversations, if the environment is too loud or has too many people around, consider moving to a more calm and safe space.

11. Understand how your partner feels appreciated

Dr. Gary Chapman explains in his bestselling book, The Five Love Languages, about how everyone has specific ways in which s/he feels most loved and appreciated. He categorizes them into “love languages” and there are five types: gifts, words of affirmation, acts of service, touch, and quality time.

Love languages can all be learned and when you figure out which one is the best one to speak to your partner, your communication between each other will significantly improve.

Do your partner’s eyes light up when you give a thoughtful gift? Then the love language is gifts.

Or maybe s/he glows and gets energized after having a deep and long conversation. Then the love language is quality time.

Or maybe after getting home from a long day, your partner just needs to cuddle and receive a nice massage. Then the love language is touch.

What to do?

Use the Love Language evaluation for yourself to learn not just for yourself, but to also learn how to identify other people’s love languages.

You and your partner don’t need to speak exactly the same love languages to stay together, you just need to really understand each other’s languages. Find out how here:

Why You and Your Partner Don’t Need to Speak the Same Love Language to Stay Together

12. Meet your partner’s level of excitement.

Imagine your partner comes home excited wanting to tell you some great news. You had a long day and now you’re busy prepping dinner so you reactively reply, “Can you hold on and move over? The pasta is boiling, the baby is crying and the table is not set yet”.

When you finally settle down at the dinner table, you ask your partner what the great news was. With his or her excitement now deflated, s/he replies half-heartedly “Oh it’s not a big deal, but I finally got that promotion I was looking for” to which you reply “That’s great! Can you pass the salt?”

One of the toughest feelings occur when you share some exciting news and the other person doesn’t meet your level of enthusiasm.

Now imagine from the earlier example how different it would feel for your partner when s/he comes home to share the exciting news and you turn off the stove and with a look of anticipation ask “What is it?“. S/he shares the great news and both of you are jumping up and down and then you go off to pop open a bottle of champagne to serve with dinner.

Meeting your partners at their level of excitement the moment it happens communicates that you are willing to be present with them during their times of joy.

What to do?

When you sense your partner’s excitement, stop what you are doing for a quick moment and then join in on the enthusiasm. This will help release the happiness hormone, serotonin, in both your brains and give you a boost in your mood.

13. Kill small talk

Have you ever had a conversation like this?

“How are you?”

“I’m good! How about you?”

“I’m good too!”

(Awkward silence)

Small talk gets you on autopilot because you hear the same kinds of questions and it triggers you to habitually give the same answers.

Asking interesting and engaging questions will turn on people’s brains and get them to actively think rather than react to routine conversations.

What to do?

Try to ask questions that you are actually interested in and would love to hear the answers to:

  • Instead of asking “How are you?” say something like “Tell me about your day.”
  • Instead of asking “What do you do?” ask something like “Working on anything exciting these days?”
  • Instead of asking “Where are you from?” ask something like “Have any vacations coming up?”

14. Respond rather than react

When you feel a certain emotion after your partner shares something challenging with you such as a disagreement, it’s easy to react and give a response without thinking. Many times, this leads to defensiveness and becoming less open to productive conversation.

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Simply bringing awareness to yourself in these moments gives you the power to make a choice and use the thinking part of your brain to evaluate how to best respond to the situation. Instead of letting your amygdala take over causing you to react and put your walls up to defend yourself, simply take a moment to be aware of what is happening.

Just verbally expressing what’s going on goes a long way. For example, in this moment you can simply express “I’m feeling inadequate right now because…”

Just making sense of the situation helps you get out of a reactive mode and puts you in a proactive mode where you can make better decisions to improve your communication.

What to do?

At times your partner disagrees with you or says something you disagree with, take a moment to notice if you are feeling defensive or not. Especially if you are feeling hurt.

Then take a moment to ask yourself, how am I feeling right now? Verbalize that feeling to your partner.

Afterwards, think about how you can best respond to the situation to make it a productive conversation rather than a destructive one.

15. Become a highlighter

What psychologist’s call the Pygmalion effect has been shown that people step up to great expectations when done correctly.

For example, if you genuinely communicate to your friend “It’s been such an inspiration to see how dedicated of a teacher you are. I can really see how strong and brave you are to make sure your students thrive because you keep working even when it gets hard.”

Your friend is likely to try and continue working hard to uphold this expectation of being a courageous person.

Communicating in this way not only helps your partner grow, but it also helps them feel more drawn to you and be more open to conversation.

So as you continue to communicate and highlight what you find impressive about your partner, you may notice them stepping up to keep improving in that way.

What to do?

  • When you introduce a friend to someone, don’t just introduce their names, but also mention one thing you love about or find interesting about him or her.
  • Start a gratitude journal about your partner and log every time you are thankful for something about him or her.
  • Highlight any growth and improvements you are noticing about your partner. This will increase their chances of succeeding and persisting when things get tough.

16. Help show your partner that it’s okay to feel feelings

In cultures where showing your emotions can be considered a sign of weakness, a misconception arises that uncomfortable feelings are something bad. It sets off a chain of unhealthy interactions between people when attempting to communicate clearly.

For example, if you grew up believing crying is a sign of weakness, you are likely to also be uncomfortable when someone else cries in front of you.

This is what causes many people to react by trying to “fix” the emotions of the partner by offering suggestions on what to do rather than simply listening and empathizing.

Feelings are not meant to be fixed or avoided. They are meant to be felt no matter how uncomfortable.

What to do?

Show your partner it’s okay to feel his/her feelings simply by validating them. For example, if s/he talks to you about something upsetting that happened at work, you can reply “That really sucks. I would’ve been pissed off too if i was in the same situation”.

This kind of response shows that the feelings your partner are experiencing are valid feelings that are okay to experience.

If you become uncomfortable, it will make your partner feel uncomfortable as well and it may make him/her feel like there is something wrong with experiencing such feelings.

17. Embrace shame with empathy

Empathy is single-handedly the most important way to improve your communication in relationships. And the times you most need to have empathy is when your partner is having a moment of shame.

Shame and vulnerability expert, Dr. Brene Brown lists a few scenarios that will cause miscommunication between each other. Chances are you’ve experienced what all of this feels like:

  • The friend who hears your story and actually feels shame for you. S/he gasps and confirms how horrified you should be and then there’s awkward silence. Now you’re stuck feeling like you’re the one who needs to help your friend feel better.
  • The friend who responds with sympathy where it’s a response of “I feel so sorry for you” rather than empathy. i.e. Friend responds “Oh you poor thing.”
  • The friend who relied on you to be the pillar of worthiness and authenticity but your partner can’t help because s/he’s disappointed in your imperfections that you let him/her down.
  • The friend who is so uncomfortable with vulnerability that s/he scolds you. i.e. “How did you let this happen?”
  • The friend who’s all about making it better and out of his/her own discomforts refuses to acknowledge that your feelings are okay.
  • The friend who confuses connection with the opportunity to one-up you. i.e. “That’s nothing! Well listen what happened to me!”

What to do?

Practice responding with empathy when your partner is communicating shame with you. Nursing scholar Theresa Wiseman’s shares about the four attributes of empathy:

  • To be able to see the world as others see it. This requires putting your own perspective aside to see the situation through the eyes of your partner’s.
  • To be nonjudgmental. Judgement invalidates your partner’s situation and is actually a protection mechanism to avoid experiencing the discomfort and pain of the situation.
  • To understand another person’s feelings. To do this, you must be aware of your own feelings in order to understand your partner’s.
  • To communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings. Rather than trying to make your partner feel better or “fix” things with replies like “At least it’s not worse than…” or “You should…” try connecting with and validating their feelings by saying things like “That sucks…” or “I hate when that happens because it really hurts…” Brene Brown gives a great suggestion on how to empathize especially if you have never been in the same situation as your partner’s. She suggests “It sounds like you are in a hard place now. Tell me more about it.”

Cultivate a safe space for better communication

At the end of the day, the thing needed most to improve communication is by helping establish a safe space between the person you are in a conversation with.

If you don’t feel safe with the person you are talking to, you will automatically become defensive in your conversation. Rather than really hearing out what the other person has to say, you may be pre-occupied and planning out what you want to say in response so that you can either position yourself as competent or make yourself look better.

All the techniques listed here are simply ways to help disarm people’s brains from going into defense mode and feel safe to have honest and genuine conversation with you. In turn, this will result in a healthy exchange of authentically listening and responding.

Go ahead, give them all a try!

Featured photo credit: Jacob Ufkes via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Eugene K. Choi

A life coach who helps people discover how to best utilize their passions and talents through a proven process.

How to Be Happy Again: 13 Simple Ways to Shake off Sadness Now 17 Tactics to Drastically Improve Communication in Relationships How to Attain Self Realization (Step-By-Step Guide for a Better You) 15 Ways Meditation Benefits Your Brain Power and Your Mood 8 Signs of a Toxic Relationship and How to Save Yourself from It

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Published on April 4, 2019

How to Enjoy Parenting Teens and Help Your Kids Thrive

How to Enjoy Parenting Teens and Help Your Kids Thrive

This article is here because my daughter’s friend said “Your mum’s cool. She’s a great parent.” It led to us asking what makes a good parent of teens?

My children are 18 and 15 and I don’t think I get it right all the time. However, having asked on social media, I think I get an easy ride. So from my daughter’s point of view, coaching and mine, here’s how to get the best out of teen years for you and your teenagers.

1. Know How They Wind You up

Teens know how to hit every annoy parent button going. Work out what triggers you and work on yourself before you engage with them.

As a rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t talk to a colleague at work like it, then don’t speak to your child like it. Your aim is to help them become successful adults and that’s a process that should start from birth – even as young children, you want them to be able to communicate effectively to get what they want, be strong minded, confident and capable in the big wide world.

So you need to be their role model. And that’s not easy when they are hitting your buttons.

Find yours and desensitise yourself to them. (For me, I can internally laugh and think “What must I have sounded like to my Mum at this age?” And that diffuses any frustration.

2. Understand Why They Grunt

Maybe you wonder, “Why do they grunt – they communicated better when they were 7!”

Teens are learning to be who they are (and there’s plenty of adults who still don’t know!) So don’t expect them to behave the same as they did when they were little and cute.

If you get grunts and groans at suggestions of things to do, it’s not them saying “That’s the worse idea ever;” that’s them questioning “Is it okay to be me? To do this? To live like this? To want this?” They are questioning:

  • Where do I fit in the world?
  • What do I want to do?
  • What should I train to be?
  • Will I have to move town?
  • How will I cope?

Many questions that any adult would find daunting, and when you know the science that their brains do not finish growing until they are in their 20’s, you can see why you might have days where you have the equivalent of a Teen Zombie on your hands.

Ask yourself if you could cope with your job, family life, friends, chores and still find the brain space to answer the big life questions.

According to research by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore whose research lab is based at UCL in London,[1]

“The answer is this: the prefrontal cortex, which regulates emotional responses and inhibits risk-taking, is going through physiological changes that make some adolescents act in such seemingly incomprehensible ways.”

When you consider the prefrontal cortex functions in cognitive control (planning, attention, problem solving, error monitoring, decision making, social cognitive and working memory) you can start to see why they forget to empty the dishwasher or behaved as they did. It really is not their fault!

3. Deal with Your Own Feelings

They are growing up and inevitably they are going to leave home. While many cheer there’s still that sinking empty nest feeling that can have many negative connotations:

  • “I wish they would appreciate me.”
  • “They don’t know how easy they’ve got it.” Etc etc.

Ultimately it can lead us to question:

What’s my role? Where will I fit in their future? (Or even – will I?)

Don’t get ahead of yourself and have gratitude for this time – it’s limited.

I got upset at Christmas when my son reminded me this could be his last stocking under the tree. (Yes we still do that – read on for why.) As my son said to me “I’m not gone yet, you’ve got me for another 14 months yet.” I had to hide the sad sigh I nearly let out.

But of course he was right. And if I get this right, I will be a part of his future. It’s hard to admit your role at this age is to become surplice to requirements. But then, you remember there will be a whole new myriad of ways they will want and need support, and of course therefore your jobs not over yet.

4. Respect the Door (And Get It Reinforced – They Will Slam It!)

Things are changing and they need space to work out what that means; just as you want to desperately hold on to the cute child that used to run home from school and want a cuddle and to tell you all about it.

When their door is shut, respect that – knock before you go in. Don’t fear something sinister is happening in there. It showcases you respect their space. These little unsaid things will start to speak in a positive way to your teen.

Likewise, you want them to respect your privacy and quiet time – and my children are far more respectful of me as I’ve given them more respect. Which leads us on to…

5. Relinquish Control – Start Them Young. (8 to 10 Years Old)

Ask yourself:

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How and when will I relinquish control? At what pace? And why is this important to introduce?

From that age, our children had no bedtime. We’d discuss how tired they thought they were, and when did they want to go to bed?

Yes we would have “I feel wide away Mummy” nights where they were clearly exhausted and then the conversation would progress to:

“So what’s the reason you keep yawning do you think?”

“When Mummy yawns, what do you think it means?”

That kind of question is a coaching question that puts the responsibility back on the other person. And it helps them to learn to listen to their body – something critical for the teen years.

You can’t expect an 19 year old to magically get up ready for a day at work or university if you didn’t help them learn to listen to their own bodies years in advance.

6. It’s Okay to Play

I asked my daughter’s friend why she felt I was a great parent. She shared that while I was “scary,” (code for expected high standards) I encourage play.

At 15, a group of girls can feel awkward jumping around in a pool and playing like, well kids – is that allowed as teens? As I pointed out at the time – you’re in a secluded garden – you can squeal with excitement, play volley ball and no one can see you to judge you playing – it is still allowed at 15.

That’s why my children still set up for Santa every year. Don’t be so quick to grow up.

As a coach, it is only when I bring fun to the session can someone really deal with difficult obstacles in their life. Lead by example, let them see fun is not off the agenda just because you grow up – they have incredibly creative minds at this age, so enable and empower that and they could benefit for their whole lives.

7. Know When to Loosen the Leash

Social media and phones in general can be a massive headache for parents.

“You spend your life on that phone,” ask yourself why.

Is it because they hate the real world and it’s more fun?

Or is it more likely because they can hang out virtually with their friends no matter where they are or what “lame” chore they’re doing? It can lighten the load by sharing with a friend. No different to you.

When I was a kid, I was constantly moaned at for having my head in a book; “Get outside” “Don’t you want to go and play with your friends?” I’d hear every weekend and holiday.

I love reading – it’s an escape, a place to learn. A place to calm my thoughts and not have to engage with anyone or anything – that phone does the same for them.

Instead of being so quick to limit their time and control when and where they can use it, have a conversation about how your teen likes to use their phone and how it can be used to navigate the fact you are in a family environment, and you don’t always want to see their face with a metal block in front of it;

“How can I give you your space and time with your friends every day and get to hear about your day too?”

Remember, don’t make it about you and your needs – it’s not that they don’t care; it’s just there’s too much going on for you to be at the top of the importance pile.

8. Teach off Line Time by Getting off Line

Our interconnected worlds are awesome to reduce loneliness, but they also can make us question who we are and reduce confidence and escalate anxiety.

One report by the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK surveyed 1500 young people, ages 14 – 24, to determine the effects of social media on issues such as anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and body image.[2] They found that YouTube had the most positive impact, while Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and SnapChat all had negative effects on mental health

9. Ask Yourself “What Did You Hate Your Parents Saying to You?”

I can remember my Dad had an infuriating rule that we weren’t allowed out on a Friday night – “Friday night is family night.”

I’ve always believed in the importance of a meal sat around a table where everyone gets to off load about their day. But my teens can be keen to race their food desperate to get back to homework, gaming or friends online. However we expect a little of their day.

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“In 24 hours, I don’t think it’s a lot to give your Mum and Dad an hour at meal time” I say.

It’s a completely reasonable request (with relapses allowed as you will see below.) But it ensures we stay bonded as a family and the conversations always include laughter and yes, some stroppy antagonising between siblings. But it’s a chance for 4 people to come together and chat with no agenda. Hence no phones, but even that has leniency.

If you want to be a part of your teens’ life, take an interest in their passions. I don’t have a great love for K-pop but I can do a few of Twice’s dance moves and I can sing along to a few BTS songs. It’s about respecting them, their hobbies, passions, interests, etc.

You can’t expect respect if you don’t give it, right? That’s why even the phone rule can get a reprieve.

If they’ve seen a great meme or a funny YouTube, if we’ve finished eating, we will suggest they fetch their phone so they can share it. I’ve also learnt it means they end up sticking around long past the allotted 60 minutes Mum and Dad time to share other videos and share more.

This obviously is something I’m not prepared to relinquish. I feel it’s a life skill I want them to learn now. But it wasn’t just enforced – we talked about the reasons why we felt it was important and how to make it a part of their day they enjoyed rather than endured.

So I listen to the things they hate and even if I’m not keen, I flex and bend:

I will let friend stay in the week.

They have proven that a game or film is age appropriate when I’ve thought differently – and they’ve then listened when I’ve firmly said “Actually sorry but no, not yet.”

I don’t say “Your too young” I’ve asked “What do you think that outfit may suggest?” And usually with a sigh they’ve been able to see the logic – but again they’ve also convinced me otherwise – my daughter convinced me she should have fish night tights (Like many things for me, these were banned as a teen and I was badly bullied for being the only child in 150 students wearing school colours when everyone else had the latest trends! My parents told me it was character building – I know now it took many years to find my confidence and like being me)

So there’s compromise – She can have them if they are under her holey jeans – Daughter Fashionable – Mum Happy.

10. Remember That No Conversation Is off Limits

While that may feel daunting and possibly even a little icky for you, if you aren’t prepared to answer their questions when and how they need them answered they will go online – and 31% of children have shared a fake news story.[3]

My friend said they wouldn’t be talking about sex with their 10 year old because it wasn’t appropriate only for it to come up in a conversation in front of me.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be graphic detail. A simplified answer is usually enough – and if you get an over exuberant questioner, there are lots of books that will help you and them learn the subject without feeling you are losing their childhood before your eyes.

That way they will grow up knowing they can trust you to give them true and honest answers. Treating like young adults.

11. Mom’s and Dad’s Have Needs Too

Teens need to learn that they are not the centre of the universe but in a delicate way – because right now, they feel like they are.

Choose your moments wisely. You can say “I feel like I’ve got a lot on this week, do you feel you can think of any ways to help me get through it all? Are there any chores around the house you could help with?”

One client introduced home rules and was surprised of the knock on impact it had in their professional lives too.

12. Don’t Drop Your Standards

I don’t want to paint a picture of two angelic teenagers – my daughter just now didn’t listen and ended up hoovering all 17 rooms instead of the 4 I asked she hoover – we laughed after I gave her a minute to calm down!

But the fact is if you feel like they aren’t listening, they probably aren’t. They start to wander off when they’ve got their thoughts out of their head….

So choose your time well to discuss things you feel are important and ensure they’ve heard what you’ve said.

I often hear “You didn’t say that.” When you get that answer, It’s no good getting into “Yes I did, you were standing right there when I said it!” because that turns into a she said, he said moment that couldn’t get unpicked it a court of law.

Make sure when you ask them to do something or need to know something, you have a witness – that way either your partner, friend or their sibling can say on your behalf “Did you hear what your Mum said?” Usually you get a vague “er yes.”

Or ask them to repeat it back to you. That way, you know that they know what they’ve been asked to do – so the excuses for why they didn’t do it later won’t happen.

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Just remember if you have standards and you expect things from them. Be prepared to listen to them and understand what they feel is important too.

13. The Bank of Mom and Dad Doesn’t Need to Shut but It Does Need to Come with Terms and Conditions

It won’t be long before they need to go to the bank and ask for a loan to buy a house or set up student loans – get them into the habit of understanding financial conversations and terminology.

Don’t get all high and mighty with “You need to understand the value of money” or “In my day we respected money” they aren’t listening (remember?)

On the other hand, if you say something that relates to what they want in the world – a lift to a party (late at night) the latest K-pop band album that they HAVE to have the day it comes out, you can ask “Okay I’m happy to help you achieve this, how will you be paying for this?”

My children get low pocket money that’s paid into a bank account, and has been since they were young. And yes, only they had the bank card because I wanted them to learn about how to handle money; to save, to understand when it says zero on the balance, you don’t have the funds to see the latest Marvel film or meet your mates. So, what are you going to do about it?

The reason they get low pocket money is not because we are evil but, because when those overpriced K-pop albums are shipped half way around the world to my excited teenager, she is excited and proud:

Yes she saved up. Yes she delivered a thousand newspapers to help pay for it.

And that level of determination and sacrifice of other short-term things she would have loved to own mean I’m happy to make up the difference.

The interesting thing is they never ask for money. So, if it’s given as a surprise, they are always very grateful and appreciate that is not the norm.

I usually ensure after the “Thanks Mum, you’re awesome” has died down, we do have a serious conversation around “Now, you know why I paid the rest right?”

And I then give her the space to think and list of “Yes mum, I helped with the kitchen, I have cleared my washing (I don’t do their washing – if I do their washing at 15 and 18 at what age are they going to learn? Just as they are starting a long houred new job or as they start University and will need their brain space for far more important things.)

We are 4 adults living in this house all with:

  • Goals
  • Ambitions.
  • Friends.
  • Work.
  • Weekend plans.

And because of that we all need to appreciate that every week this house will need:

  • Floors washing.
  • Hoovering.
  • Polishing.
  • Cleaning.
  • Grass cut.
  • Recycling.
  • And various other tasks.

Don’t confront them. Don’t give them ultimatums. Ask questions like:

“I know you’ve got big plans for this weekend, as you can see the house needs to be tidy by Monday, what can you do to help with that?”

Or

“I know you’ve got a lot of homework to do but a little brain space will help you process your thoughts. So in between homework, how can you help with the weekly chores?”

And if they don’t help? The recycling has ended up on my sons bed and I have put dirty cups back in my daughters bedroom with a note saying “Sorry these don’t live on the side.”

14. Don’t Assume What You See Is What You Are Getting

Adults hide their true emotions all the time. I know that sometimes the last thing my kids want is me in their room, but other times they want a chat and someone listening to them.

Don’t go in strong – still be who you’ve always been to them but read the signs:

  • Longer gaming than usual.
  • Sitting in the dark on the phone.
  • Not wanting to eat with you.
  • Getting home and hiding in the room without even saying hello.
  • More short tempered than usual.
  • Eating more or less.

There’re many and you know your child. Trust your gut instinct but don’t go in all guns blazing “Let mummy fix it!” The door will be slammed in your face or you will hear “Ergh, mum you just don’t get it.”

With teens, it’s all about the timing.

15. Be Proud

List their brilliance – it will help you for the day they are hitting your buttons.

16. Don’t Push It

When my son finished his GCSE’s, he was going to be off school for nearly 4 months. I had made it clear that the rest of the family were working, so he wouldn’t spend 4 months gaming. If he didn’t’ find a job, I could find plenty of jobs around the house. (I sound so evil right?)

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I’ve learnt that to push it means they will push back. So when one month passed and still he had no job, he noticed the money dried up. He wanted new shorts (This had holes). Everyone was going to the cinema and“he didn’t have enough in his bank account.

I didn’t argue with him, I just said “A job would probably be useful then” and wouldn’t get dragged into it; as hard as it is I so wanted to just phone my business contacts and find him a job.

I knew that the real reason he hadn’t found a job was because he feared going into restaurants, bars, shops and offices and asking for one. I can remember that fear and I wasn’t going to force his hand. His friends did that for me.

Eventually 2 months later when I still wasn’t opening the doors of the bank of Mom and Dad, he came home proudly to announce he had been offered 5 interviews and had 2 jobs he could immediately start that Saturday.

In one morning!

Wow that was fast? What did I do?

Nothing.

He needed to get there for himself. Eventually the pain of not having the things and experiencing what he wanted was associated with having no money. And so he did something about it despite the fear of talking to strangers or carrying 5 plates at once.

Fear will never stop being an issue in life – trust me as a coach specialising in this, I know!

Wind forward 6 months and the boss of the restaurant stopped me and said “Your son has an awesome work ethic, is great with customers, gets loads of tips and learns quickly.” Now that beats any school report!

If I had forced him this first memories of interviews and getting jobs, it would have been stressful for him.

By not pushing him, he could get there on his own and now knows he can get the job – that’s essential knowledge and experience for life. Interviews are scary enough!

17. Teach Life Skills

Basic life skills such as how to shake someone’s hand, how to greet someone, why eye contact is important and what your body language can say to people – before you get a chance to speak…

These (and many more) help when you aren’t feeling confident to try new things. Don’t expect miracles only 5 years earlier he was still asking me to take him around the local area to find Pokémon!

18. Make Time for Fun

There are few things I put my foot down about. We expect a high standard from our children and don’t get me wrong, they can stomp off and slam a door like Olympic champions if they want to, but they do know we expect:

Film night once a month – we will provide the sweets and popcorn you give us 2 hours of your life.

Meal time every night – with a few naughty treats – do you know how excited a teen gets at the prospect of a pizza in bed all on their own watching what they like?

I think it’s only fair because we all need space and while I’m not keen on the eating in bed thing –give in and let them do a few things they love. Your actions show you care. Even if the bed sheets aren’t so appreciative.

In the school holidays, I expect them to come out for the day with me and yes, take them to any café or restaurant they like. Give and take.

Go to the cinema and see what they want. I could go in a different cinema and watch my choice of film but it’s usually a dead cert that I will be watching Marvel or some off spin CGI film with them instead.

I’ve seen every Disney, Pixar and Marvel film going – I could do with a break and a few films with real humans in, but my theory is you don’t get to keep them for long.

Final Thoughts

And that’s the point isn’t it. If you find yourself seeing red, and struggling, they are at the age that they could be moving out within a few years and that’s it for this stage – it’s all over.

I cherish every half term. Every moan about a teacher. Every in-depth description of “she said, he said” because in a few years time, they will get new people in their lives — girlfriends, boyfriends… And then you really are knocked off their pedestal!

As my mum said to me when my children were very little, teething and sleep was something I’d read about in a fairy tale. But I didn’t believe were real, I’d asked “Mum does it get easier?” and my Mum replied with a smile “It doesn’t get easier, it gets different.”

So I look forward to what the next stage will bring – probably no less worry, no less fun, no less conversations but, possibly more place settings at the table and some exciting times. Another reason to cherish every day now.

Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

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