What You Can Do Now to Raise Teens Who Talk to You

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

As a mom who's been blessed with all girls, I often find myself talking to a perfect stranger who, when they see that I have girls, feels compelled to warn me of the dreadfulness that will surely come to visit us in their teen years. It's simple statements with loaded implications, like "Oh what beautiful girls you have! What a blessing! Enjoy it now, because once they're teens..." Like it's a given that once our house is full of teenage girls instead of toddlers and school-agers, suddenly life is going to be full of misery and angst. Seriously, I've not ever received one positive comment from anyone regarding what's to come. Now, I write this as a mom who doesn't yet have teenagers, but before you blow me off as unqualified to write such an article, please note that these are all words of wisdom that have been given to me over the years from wise women who have raised girls, and not only survived, but thrived through the teen years. I've tucked these words away and try to remember to apply them daily, so that Lord willing, our home won't be as awful as all these well-meaning (or not-so-well-meaning!) individuals say it will. Even if your daughter is little, it's not too early to start intentionally forging a relationship with her that will make her more inclined to grow into a teen who wants to have you be primarily her mother, but also her confidant and friend. Here are four things you can do right now to move in that direction.

1. Listen to her even when you're bored out of your mind.

Sometimes my oldest wants to tell me every single thing that just happened on The Magic School Bus (her current favorite show). I'm talking details. That I don't care about. She will revisit the show in it's entirety, giving me the play by play for fifteen solid minutes. So guess what I do? I muster up a smile and I listen. I could take it a step further by stopping what I'm doing and really engaging and asking questions here and there. Why bother? Because if I don't listen to her now, she will eventually stop telling me about everything, and one day I'll wake up and she'll be a pre-teen going through some hard and awkward things and she won't want to talk to me about them. It will be too late. I'm putting the work in now (if you can call listening to the details of dreams and kid shows 'work') so they will feel like mom is always available to listen and talk with later when issues get heavy.

2. Watch your facial expressions.

This one goes along with listening. Kids are so in tune with details that we assume they are oblivious to. Not only do they notice our idiosyncrasies and mimic us, they notice our body language, our tone of voice, and our slight facial expressions. They can tell when we are listening but bored. They notice the dumbfounded look on my face that I get when they say or do something I disapprove of (or when they don't know something simple that I think they should know by now). Kids are amazingly in tune, especially with their mothers, and a snarky or bored or stupefied look on our face can cause them to be hesitant to talk to us openly and honestly. We don't have to wear big fake smiles all day long, but we can fight the urge for negative facial expressions when our children are talking to us.

3. Don't react negatively when they ask you a shocking question or say something wildly inappropriate.

Kids say the darndest things, we all know this and have experienced it at some point--or several. Young children will inevitably ask very frank questions about very personal subjects. They are curious and when they're little, they have no embarrassment themselves whatsoever, which is why it's important to answer them with an age appropriate answer, without getting all weird about it. That doesn't mean we have to give a three year old the details of how to insert a tampon and what a period is! But when she finds a tampon while rummaging in your purse and asks "What's this?", it's important to give a quick answer without making it into a big deal. If your child is school age, they will come home with questions about things they hear other (often older) kids talking about, and the questions might be absolutely shocking. Again, no need to divulge further than necessary, but please, please don't get angry or freak out about it! Even if it's a totally taboo subject that a 7-year-old shouldn't know about, your child isn't being bad by asking. By always answering in a calm and collected, unembarrassed way, you're communicating to your child that you are indeed a person she can feel comfortable talking to. As parents, we definitely hope to be the first people our kids come to as they start to have questions about their bodies, sex, and relationships. We can prove ourselves to be just those people by not getting upset or awkward about their questions now.

4. Make it a habit to talk with your daughter-not just at her.

I was surprised one day when I asked my five-year-old what her favorite thing to do is. She replied, "Just talking with you, Mom!" I knew what she was talking about. Her little sisters still take naps most afternoons, and while I make Addison rest for a bit, she usually comes out and just wants to hang out with me. Sometimes I read to her or she helps me with things around the house, but every once in awhile we play the question game, where I ask her a bunch of questions about what her favorite things are. She absolutely loves this! I find myself talking at my girls so often. Time for breakfast...make sure to clear your plates...brush your teeth and get dressed...don't talk to each other like that, use kind voices...did you brush for two minutes?...we have to leave in five minutes, get your shoes on! Sound familiar? Children need a lot of direction, so naturally we moms find ourselves guiding them through the day, reminding them of things and directing them. It can become a constant thing, especially when they're little. That's why it's so important to intentionally make time and effort to talk with them. I find that coloring with my girls opens up communication in such a simple way. When we're all coloring together, there's no other agenda...no where to go, nothing to clean up, and generally no one is fighting or getting into trouble when we're just coloring. It's the perfect time to just sit and chat and ask them questions or tell them stories from when I was a little girl (they love hearing about when I was a kid, although they can hardly believe I was ever little like them!) Opening up the communication channels and becoming a person they love to talk to is crucial to building a beautiful, deep, open relationship that we all desperately hope we have with them as they grow into young adults and beyond.

If your daughter is little, start applying these things now and start building the foundation for a beautiful relationship during the more tricky teenage years. And if she is older and you read this feeling like you've already messed up, don't despair! It's never too late. Start today, and ask the Lord to bless your efforts. Our girls want to have a good relationship with us, and I believe they would prefer to have us be the ones they come to with hard things, but it starts with us. It's dependent upon our intentionality in making sure our girls know we are there for them in a non-judgmental, unembarrassed, talk-to-us-about-anything sort of way. TODAY, we build the foundation for the relationship we desire to have with our daughters tomorrow, and for a lifetime.

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