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Reprogramming Your Brain for Better Communication with Your Teens

Reprogramming Your Brain for Better Communication with Your Teens

This guest post was written by Lindsay Law, a life coach for parents and youth. You can download a free guide from Lindsay and learn more about her work by clicking the link at the bottom. Please enjoy!

You may have entered your parenting journey with high hopes for your children to achieve happiness, find success, and create a better life than you had. If this is you, you're not alone.

These goals and desires sound very good, honorable, and, frankly, they're to be expected. Why wouldn't you want these things for your children?

Now, I'm going to tell you something that may be hard for you to hear.

Although these goals sound nice, helpful, and desirable, taking action with these goals in mind may actually be counterproductive. Worse, you may be sacrificing connection with your kids.

Let me explain.

Your brain is wired for survival and therefore defaults to choices that avoid pain and discomfort for you and your children. What does this look like?

3 Ways You Might Be Overlooking Your Child's Pain and Discomfort:

  • This might look like responding to your children in a way that dismisses their uncomfortable emotions because you want them to feel happy.
  • It may have you focused on grades and wins and amazing results because you want them to succeed, instead of just supporting their learning process.
  • Because you want them to have a life that is better than you had, you may be jumping to judgment when they are not behaving the way you would like, instead of really getting curious about what is going on for them emotionally and mentally.

Why do I know this happens?

Because I've done it.

I have been that parent grasping for happiness for me and my child like a baby grasping for its mother.

I have been that parent, focused on "passing" and meeting worldly definitions of success.

I have been the parent making judgments about how my kids are "just not trying" instead of really discovering their personal struggles.

I promise you: The harder you push for happiness, the further from it you will get. The more you focus on external results for your child, the less motivation they will have to achieve those results. The more you judge their behaviors and actions you don't like, the more those behaviors and actions will continue.

A More Intentional Way to Communicate with Your Teens:

The good news is, I'm here to tell you there is a better way!

There is a way to reprogram your brain from these default responses of survival and avoidance of pain to a place that creates a deep and lasting connection with your kids.

A place that communicates acceptance of them as a person, no matter what they achieve, no matter what they feel, and no matter how they behave.

What if this was your new goal?

What if your focus was creating connection and communicating acceptance to your child? How would that change life for you and them?

For me, it has created so much more confidence, connection, peace, and acceptance for myself and my kids. It has allowed my kids to accept themselves to a greater degree and fully step into their own confidence. That means less worry and stress for all of us.

If this is something you want for your family, I will show you how. All of these results can be created by making three shifts in the way you communicate with your children.

Communication Shift #1: Validate, Don't Fix

Allow yourself to move from fixing your child's emotions to validating them.

We try to fix our kids' problems because we aren't comfortable with them feeling sad or worried. We want them to be happy, so we jump to fix or dismiss the uncomfortable emotions.

When they come to you and say, "I'm really worried about my test tomorrow," you might want to reassure them about how well they are going to do because they studied enough and they are super smart, by saying something like, "Don't worry, you'll do fine."

This is fixing, and it dismisses their emotional experience. It may send the message that they shouldn't be feeling that way and that they are not accepted when they feel this way. They may wonder if something is wrong with them. Now, I know that this is not what you are trying to communicate, but this is likely the message they're getting.

What you really want to do is validate what they are feeling and help them know that you accept them no matter what. When you validate, you are communicating, "I see you" and "I hear you."

The good news about validating is that it doesn't mean you have to agree with them. It just means that all of your teens' emotions and thoughts are okay and that they are accepted at this moment.

In the situation above, validation might look like this: "It makes sense that you would feel worried before a test. Is there something particular that you're worried about?" I love to validate their experience and then follow up with a conversation-starting question to find out more. This is where the connection really happens.

Communication Shift #2: Focus On the Process, Not the Results

Give yourself permission to move from focusing on results to focusing on the process.

This is another opportunity to redefine success and failure in your home. When we as parents focus on the end result too often, as opposed to the effort and learning leading up to the result, our kids may start to connect reaching certain results with receiving our acceptance and love.

Of course, that's not true, but we have to be intentional with our communication if we really want to communicate acceptance and help our teens see their value.

This focus on results can apply to tests, the outcomes of games, and finishing tasks at home. When you're focused on results, you may ask:

  • Who won the game?
  • What did you get on the test?
  • Did you finish the vacuuming?

Now, I'm not saying that you can never ask these questions, but if your communication primarily centers around results, you may be sending the message that that is your biggest concern. Your kids want to feel like they, personally, are your biggest concern.

  • When you shift to focusing on the process, you may ask:
  • How did you feel about the game?
  • What was the best moment of the game?
  • What have you learned in this class that you are most thankful for?
  • I saw how hard you studied for that test. What study technique worked best for you?

Thanks so much for picking the clothes up off the floor before you vacuumed!

By shifting our focus, we can also open up conversations about what success really means. Does it mean winning or reaching the goal, or does it mean trying, taking a risk, and doing something uncomfortable?

Your kids need to know that success does not always relate to the end result, so they are willing and open to trying and risking failure.

Communication Shift #3: Be Curious, Don't Judge

Help yourself move from judgment to curiosity.

One of your brain's great skills is making quick judgments based on past experience to keep you safe. Your brain also tends to have a very all-or-nothing approach to life.

At times this is very helpful, but most often, when it comes to your kids, it is not. Your brain may immediately judge them with very little information or quickly judge or blame yourself for their behavior. Neither are helpful.

Let's look at an example. If your child didn't do their chores today, your brain might jump to:

  • They're lazy
  • They're not trying

The problem with these judgments is that they discount any other information that may be available. Even if your brain can find a ton of evidence that they are true, they are still not helpful. Judging your kids has you showing up in a way that does not build connection, whether you vocalize the judgment or not.

Now, let's try on curiosity! What would that look like? You might try asking:

  • I wonder why my child didn't do their chores today?
  • What else could be true for my kid?
  • I wonder what's happening for them today, that they didn't get to that chore?
  • Is there a need they have that is not being met?

There are so many different ways to get curious in any situation.

Now, a word of caution: Be careful that your curious question is not laced with judgment. For example, "I wonder why my child is lazy."

Sorry, but that's not curious. That is just rephrasing your judgment. When you want to get truly curious, it needs to come from a place of curiosity, fascination, or wonder. Take some time to practice feeling those emotions, and you'll open up more connection and acceptance.

Putting It All Together:

I promise you: Creating connection and communicating acceptance will be much more powerful in your relationship with your kids than reaching for happiness and success and holding your kids to the picture of an ideal life in your brain.

Your kids will have a whole spectrum of emotions in their life, and that's good. Success is going to look different for everyone. And their vision of their ideal life might be even better than what you can dream up.

Letting go of fixing, focusing on results, and judging will open the door for your child to accept themselves and move away from thought patterns that destroy their confidence.

Validating, focusing on the process, and being curious create something better than happiness and success. They create a strong relationship with your child and the feeling within them that they are accepted for being who they are.

Lastly, a Gift From Me to You:

Making these shifts can be tricky sometimes! To make the process easier, I created two short guides (one for you, one for your teen) to remind you of the key principles. Click here to download them for free!

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