One of the main issues people come into therapy wanting help with is communication; whether it is between two spouses, a parent-child relationship, an entire family system, or even an individual needing help in expressing themselves. Some of these complaints may sound familiar: “They don’t communicate with me”, “I feel like I’m not being heard”, “They don’t understand me”, “ I’m not good at expressing myself”, “It feels like we’re on different pages.”
Today lets look at the breakdown in communication between parents and children. For most of us, when we feel like we are not being heard we will tend to go to one extreme or the other, either getting angry and yelling, or shutting down completely out of frustration; neither of which is ultimately getting us what we want. This scenario can be played out by either the child/teen or the adult parent, both sides getting more frustrated by the lack of communication. Usually the complaint of bad communication comes when there is a need or frustration involved.
One of the first places I start is by asking both sides how they communicate their needs or frustrations, we often think we are communicating more than we really are. When you have a need are you stating it clearly so there is no misinterpretation? Are you aware of what your actual need is in a moment? Sometimes we just need a parent to listen and be there for us not try and give solutions, so we feel they are not listening and will shut down or get mad. For parents, their intention behind things can be from a place of love and concern, but can come across as simply telling their child what to do instead of sharing their heart behind their “request” (or let’s be honest, sometimes demand).
I was recently speaking with a parent frustrated that her teen was being so resistant to certain requests, they were not communicating to the parent about it but simply fighting back, frustrated by the lack of communication the parent kept pushing harder and got angrier. The first question I asked the parent was “have you tried asking her what was going on for her when you made this request? How she felt about it, why she was frustrated?” The parent humbly admitted they had not taken the time to hear from their teen. Now, don’t beat yourself up if you have found yourself in this situation, sometimes the last thing parents think about is checking in with your teen about their thoughts and feelings about a situation we are dealing with. But so many times the reason communication is broken down is because one side feels unheard, and instead of saying this, they push back or shut down. We all get into the habit of talking at people instead of making sure to ask the other person involved their thoughts and feelings.
As parents, we have to lead by example. Not all teens are as going into conversations with their parents knowing how to properly express themselves. It can feel frustrating as a parent to feel you have to do this, but it is invaluable. Letting your child/teen first feel heard, helping them learn how to understand what they are feeling, and what they are or are not communicating can only serve to benefit them in all areas of life, and even more so in the communication at home.