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In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim shares some tips for rebuilding connections with your teen.
My teen daughter is angry all the time. She is breaking rules at home and I suspect she is making bad choices when she is away from home. I am so sad that I don't have a better relationship with her, but if I try to enforce any rules she gets so mad and thinks I am the mean, awful one. She either won't talk to me or says she hates me. Every interaction with her is strained, and I don't know how to change this and improve our relationship. I don't know how to help her.
First, you need to understand that your child is scared and in pain. She most likely has low self-esteem and even even be harboring some self-hate, which she is projecting onto you. Whenever someone is angry, hostile, defensive or attacking, try to remember that it's hurting people who hurt people.
When someone is functioning in fear and pain, they often aren't very nice. They can be critical, defensive and attacking (meaning they will blame everything on you). Please understand, this is a self-protection strategy. They don't know a better way to protect themselves, so they are resorting to seeing you as the enemy and attacking you. This strategy feels much safer than working on themselves.
They often feel so worthless that they simply cannot handle the thought that they are wrong or at fault. They need to project the blame and shame on someone else to feel safe.
When you have a loved one who is acting out, picking fights, or pushing you away, it is important that you see this as scared behavior, which is really a request for love. They desperately need to feel important, good enough, safe, appreciated, seen and loved. The problem is their behavior doesn't make you want to give them love or validation at all.
It also sounds like you have reached the stage where she is exercising her freedom to choose whatever she wants, so the days of trying to control her behavior are over. The more you try to control her, the more she will pull away from you emotionally.
You should have rules and boundaries, but they need to be renegotiated. You need to have a serious heart-to-heart conversation where you concede that she is going to make her own choices, no matter what you say or do. Every child reaches this stage as part of growing up, but many kids claim their freedom long before their brains are developed enough to make good choices. This is what scares us as parents.
What works best at this stage is to become a "side-by-side" partner in figuring life out with your teen. The key to creating this connection and collaboration is to respect them, trust them and give them a heavy dose of unconditional love and validation. If you can do these things, your child may decide to let you be a partner and even talk to you.
Shefali Tsabary, author of "The Conscious Parent," says, "If our teens are failing at school or are unmotivated, it's because they are trying to tell us something is wrong … if you respond with control or dogmatism, you will only push them further away. The less rigid you are with them, the more likely they are to maintain a relationship with you. If you are overbearing and possessive, this will only serve to catapult them further into negative behavior. … At this point, we have to remove ourselves from any illusion we can control their life. The only way to gain access to them is through rebuilding our lost connection."
Here are some ways to rebuild your connection — and these same suggestions also work with your spouse to create a better relationship.
Accept them as they are right now
This is not about accepting her bad behavior; it is about accepting her as a human being right on track in her perfect classroom journey. You must set aside your expectations for how you wanted her to be and show her that who she is now is good enough for you. You must show that her bad behavior doesn't scare you because you know she is so wonderful, loving, smart and good on the inside, and she will figure the rest out in time.
Focus on their intrinsic qualities more than their performance or behavior
Commit to seeing the divine in every person. Be in awe of every human soul and their goodness, potential and intrinsic value. We are all one-of-a-kind, powerful, unique, irreplaceable, amazing, infinitely valuable beings, even if we are not acting like one right now. You are truly lucky to have this amazing soul in your life. She is in your life to teach you and help you become better, wiser and more loving. No matter her current behavior, she deserves your admiration, appreciation, love and acceptance as much as you or any other person on the planet does.
Tsabary recommends even saying things like:
You can still talk about performance and behavior in terms of what she learned from each experience and might do better next time, but make sure she understands her performance isn't tied to her value and that every day you see the amazing goodness in her.
Trust God and the universe that she is safe, as are you
Life is a classroom, and though the journey may be a rough one and your child may suffer and learn some things the hard way, in the end, everything is going to be OK. God has your child and their perfect classroom well in hand and you both are safer than you think When you trust God and the universe about this, you will have less fear and a better connection with the people in your life.
Trust them to make good choices (even if you are afraid they won't.) You will do this because they are going to choose whatever they want anyway. But, if they can feel you don't trust them or think they are a bad kid, it further damages their self-worth and your connection with them. It's always better to trust and be wrong than to distrust and be wrong. If your child can feel that you trust her abilities and believe she is smart and strong enough to make it in life, she is more likely to believe in herself and make good choices. If she feels you don't trust her to make it, she is more likely to live up to that too. (If they have proven you can't trust them, you still have no control, so telling them you trust them anyway won't hurt and it may motivate them.)
**Respect them. **This means honoring their right to choose their own path and be their own person. It means listening more than you talk and actually respecting what they think and feel. It means asking permission before you give advice or make suggestions. It means creating a safe place where they can talk to you about anything with being talked down to, lectured, or shamed. If this is hard for you to do, you may need to get some professional help to work on your own fears first. Just remember that respect is a two-way street, and if you want to get it you must give it.
**Unconditional love is what they need most. **Your child needs to feel that you are on her side regardless of her performance, grades, appearance or religious standing. They must feel unconditionally loved where they are right now. What most parents don't realize is that a deep fear of inadequacy is the real problem most of the time, and the cure is not criticism or punishment for bad behavior (which was only a cry for help). They need boundaries, but they also need to feel your unconditional love, admiration, respect and trust, because this helps them to feel their intrinsic worth. When they feel these things, changes in behavior always follow.
Let go of your expectations and let them be their own person. Accept and celebrate the ways they are different from you or what you expected.
Teach them how to process emotions. Teach them to experience their emotions in a healthy way and process them instead of self-medicating or distracting from them. Make sure you both know how to process and feel your way through your experiences.
Don't panic or react badly when things go wrong or they make mistakes. Don't react in fear. Take time to rebalance yourself in trust and love, before you respond. Show them how to calmly talk things through and find solutions. If you don't know how to do this, work with a coach or counselor and up your own skills.
Teach them to listen to their intuition and trust themselves to make decisions. I wrote an article on this here.
Parenting is a life long journey of growth, for you as much as your child. See whatever situation you are in with your teen, as your perfect classroom and trust that you will both get through it. I also highly recommend some professional help to up your skills and give you additional tools.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.