We are often asked for tips on connecting with kids. I wish I had a simple solution that allowed anyone to connect with a young person that is in their life, but there are no easy answers.
In truth, it is a process that, when started from birth, becomes engrained in the relationship. When the process starts in a child’s difficult adolescent years, the process can be more challenging. Here are some tips that we have found to be helpful:
Connect without a problem – As kids get older and our lives get busier and busier, we sometimes fail to connect for positive reasons. We tend to only want to talk and interact with teenagers when we have a problem to solve or an issue to deal with. None of us like the people in our lives that only show up when they need to complain, need money or are struggling with a problem that they can’t solve without time and energy from us. Young people are the same way. Make time with kids that it simply about spending time together. Dinners, movies, football games and going to church together are all ways to spend time with young people without conflict or tension. You can even turn off your phones for a little bit when you’re together. This leads kids to believe that they are indeed important to you and also lessens the tension caused when conflict does arise.
What gets your attention – Young people are preprogrammed to need and seek attention. If they don’t receive positive attention, they will settle for attention for negative behaviors. Sometime, a little praise for what they’ve done right can prevent a lot of stress and conflict over what they’ve done wrong. “Thank you for being ready on time” or “I really appreciate your help bringing in the groceries” can go a long way towards preventing a child from escalating their behavior in their quest to get your attention. This will also help them to build a balanced and realistic view of themselves.
Figure out how your child processes information and act accordingly – Some of us are internal processors and some of us are external (conversational) processors. Internal processors typically like bullet points that they can think about without the pressure associated with an extended conversation. Try to boil down the issue that you have with a young person into a few key points. “I’m struggling with your room not being clean” is very different from “You don’t respect me enough to clean your room!” Once you have identified the issue that is creating the conflict, give them a chance to process that information by following up with a call to action. “My way of getting you to clean your room obviously isn’t working. Can you please come up with a plan that will get you motivated to clean your room?” When they’ve had a chance to process the conversation, you can approach them about their solutions and offer guidance. Forcing internal processors to stay engaged in an extended conversation creates tension, anger, feelings of being unimportant and the feeling that they are not a priority in your life. External or conversational processors tend to want to talk through the process and “brain storm” solutions. They may provide solutions that are unreasonable or one-sided and that is OK. Just keep the conversation going and gently reject the ideas that don’t work for you. Unlike internal processors, they are throwing out ideas for feedback and not just making decisions. Offer feedback until you get to a solution that you can live with. Once you’ve reached a comfortable compromise, take some time to think about it and then check in with them about what you’ve decided. Walking away or giving up on a conversation with an external processor creates tension, anger, feelings of being unimportant and the feeling that they are not a priority in your life.
In either scenario, helping them understand that you provide for them by making sure they are fed, clothed, transported and have a cell phone can help them understand that they can pitch in by helping out around the house in return for the things that you are gladly willing to provide. Be careful not to use what you provide as a weapon against them as it is just a tool to show the effort you make to get them through to adulthood.
Embrace emotions – We all feel and some more than others. When a child is feeling stressed, overwhelmed, sad, furious, thrilled or happy, diminishing those feelings leads to the belief in the child that they are wrong for feeling. “Tell me more. I want to know what you’re feeling and thinking” opens the conversation up to allow for the expression of thoughts and feelings. “You shouldn’t say that” or “you shouldn’t feel that way” leads to the belief in the child that they are wrong for their feelings and must be broken or defective. This makes negative behavior much easier to justify. “I too have felt that way” leads to an understanding that emotions have to be managed and processed, and, more importantly, allows your child to understand that they are normal and that everyone has emotions that they have to deal with.
Remember what is important to them – We all appreciate people that remember what is important to us. Whether it is a favorite meal or an important TV show or a game that they wanted to watch, remind yourself to do something small every week that is a symbol of the fact that you love them. These “little things” make all the difference and remind children that they are valuable to you. Once planted, these seeds yield a lifetime of fruit.
While not an exhaustive list, these are a few of the tips that I offer to people when dealing with young people. If you have some tips that you’d like us to share, please email them to me at HeathK@theranches.org. If you would like to help us to continue to help families, please visit www.theranches.org for more information on getting involved with our mission of Rekindling Hope in Today’s Youth.