Today's teens live in a high-pressure, 24/7 world. Add on top of that the physical changes -- in body and brain -- that begin around age 12 and last into their 20s. Kids have problems that their parents often won't be able to understand. The old advice that starts, "When I was a kid . . ." doesn't have a lot relevance. Yes, we're older and have more experience with life, but when it comes to negotiating the intricacies of middle and high school, your child is the expert. Even so, it's hard to resist the temptation to tell your son or daughter how to handle the situation and then expect them to do it your way.
Listening is a much more effective approach to helping your child work through problems and make decisions. These are, after all, important life skills that need exercise to develop. Instead of telling your kid what to do in a given situation, sit down and ask him or her to tell you what he or she wants the ultimate outcome to be. Pay attention to your boy or girl's feelings and emotions. Listen and learn about daily challenges and achievements. Then ask to hear your child's thoughts on how to get to that endpoint. This brainstorming session helps your child explore possibilities, and it gives you a deeper understanding of how your offspring thinks and feels. Next, ask your kid to sift through the ideas he or she came up with to find the one most likely to bring success. Finally, ask how he or she plans to put the solution into action.
Your job through this process is to listen, offer encouragement and occasionally ask questions to get more information. If you think you can offer a valuable point to consider, ask your son or daughter if he or she would like to hear it. If the answer is yes, briefly describe your concern or an alternative your child forgot was available. If the answer is no, accept it as gracefully as possible. It is, after all, his or her decision to make. Sometimes parents just have to hold our breath, hope for the best and let our kid learn from experience.
Raising children is a tough business. As they develop and mature, kids' needs, expectations and desires change. It's hard to predict what will happen next. Recognizing when you need to make an adjustment in your behavior goes a long way toward being the parent your child needs. And chances are good that your kids will forgive your occasional missteps, just as you forgive theirs.
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