I like to think about adolescence as a second childhood.
It seems like what didn’t get resolved in the first 12 years gets a second chance in the second set of 12 years. So 13 is about year one, and 14 is about year two and so on. It’s a cool way of thinking about the issues of adolescence.
I will often ask kids and parents what was going on in those early years when I am working with adolescents and I find the insights are fascinating.
When dealing with adolescents remember that they act out what is going on – in fact the work of this period is to get them to talk about rather than act out their issues and psychological injuries.
They don’t have the self-control to not act on their impulses. They feel deeply, as deeply as adults, but they have a truncated impulse control mechanism.
Of course for many parents this is the one area in which they have trouble – talking with their teenagers.
The best time to build your relationship with your children is when they are children. How you treat them in their early lives sets up the relationship you have with them in their adolescence and adulthood.
Do not buy in to the belief that all children do not like their parents; that is not the case. It is a way of abdicating responsibility to deal with our children and their relationship to us. Just because it is common, doesn’t mean it is normal.
This is a perfect example of you reap what you sow.
Children are real people right at the beginning. They have feelings, needs, desires, likes, dislikes that are all personal to them. It is important to get to know your children and treat them like they are real in this way.
That doesn’t mean don’t discipline them – DO. Do it in a way that is mindful and allows for development of a deep and secure relationship. That is the foundation for creating trust AND strength.
Trust, strength, self-confidence and a sense of self are what children need to steady themselves through the storm of adolescence – it’s the closest thing to impulse control for an adolescent – to know himself and feel strong even in the face of adversity. Feeling connected to a parent may be the only thing that helps an adolescent though their existential angst.
That kind of closeness is created, and built, in childhood – early childhood.
Although you can build on it later it gets more difficult to create that foundation as they get older. There’s a lot you can heal in the first years of adolescence if you are willing to put in the effort to really connect, be present, and be congruent with your child.
Focus on creating an atmosphere where your child’s feelings, and experiences are validated.
Set limits and explain why – not as an avenue to change your mind, rather as an avenue to encourage your child to change theirs and to give them a way to align with what you are setting as structure. This teaches them that you have a plan, a course, a reason for what may feel arbitrary. It can create a confidence in you that is very positive later.
If your children are very young and you don’t think they can understand your plan – think of your explanation as a way of setting the structure for yourself so that you will remember to keep those communication lines open. You’ll need those lines later.
Children get the unspoken energy of things more than the spoken – so if you are honestly trying to connect and create a structure for them – they will get that and feel that you are creating trust and relationship.
If your children are adolescents this is harder. First you need to set the stage. Explain you are going to be doing things differently. Talk about the importance of communication and connection and being mindful. Show them that you are available and be congruent – do what you say you are going to do and what you expect them to do.
You will find they are not immediately responsive to these action but don’t stop. Adolescents are always watching for incongruence. If you can hang in there with them, continuing to honestly try to connect – they will note that internally, even if they do not appear to change externally. That is your way in.
You will have to be consistent, trustworthy, and real or they will not trust you.
Apply the stop, look, and listen strategy, and the attention, intention, perspective, perception strategy, that I have talked about in previous blogs, to keep yourself in the moment and mindful. Don’t bring in the past unless it’s directly relevant to the now – or you will lose them and they will feel like you are lecturing rather than connecting.
Practice, be patient, be real and have faith.
In order to be there when they need you, you have to create the relationship when it seems it isn’t needed.
See you tomorrow.