Attachment and Teens: Staying Connected to Your Child During Adolescence
Adolescence is a challenging time for most parents. Often in our therapy offices at Creative Family Counseling we hear from parents that they knew how to care for their children when they were small, but that they feel like estrangement or conflict are inevitable as their child navigates adolescence. While it is understandable that many parents feel this way, it is the cultural stereotype of teenager/parent relationships. The loss of connection between you and your child does not have to be inevitable.
Attachment and Teenagers – What do teenagers need from their parents?
The short answer is YOU! Adolescence and puberty are a time of immense change physically, but also cognitively and emotionally. Many people expect teenagers to be striking out on their own, primarily interested in peer relationships, and engaging in varying levels of teenage rebellion. While many of these things are emblematic of the developmental processes we observe during this time period (developing a sense of self and autonomy, growing in capacity to engage in abstract thinking and envisioning what they want their future to be like) the result of those processes does not have to lead to estrangement from parents. A
Many parents report that they struggle through this period with their children. Often we hear that they feel like the object of anger or frustration and that makes it difficult to have a functional relationship. While these challenges commonly do exist, how we approach them can provide opportunities to strengthen attachment and connection with your child. By responding with attunement and empathy, you can help your child learn to navigate through their own complicated emotions, learn to regulate on their own and feel competent in dealing with the challenges of growing up.
How do you do this?
Learn your child’s emotional tells and triggers and help them learn to identify them in themself. When your child can identify and label their own emotions, you can work together to help them express them in appropriate ways.
Take care of your own needs and feelings so that you can approach outbursts with empathy and understanding. When you’re well regulated, it helps your child regulate their own emotions and calm down when they’re distressed.
Validate and empathize with your child’s feelings. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with their emotions or their perspective on the situation. It does mean you’re able to validate that they are experiencing distress in a situation and help them navigate out of the emotional quagmire that they are in.
Be curious about your child’s experience. Asking what and how questions can help you explore their emotional landscape with them without activating defensiveness.
Examples of curious questions may be:
- How were you feeling when this happened?
- What were you hoping was going to happen?
Notice the difference between the above questions, which invite critical thinking and problem solving, along with neutral understanding of the child’s emotional experiences, versus questions such as the following, which may invite defensiveness into the conversation: Why did you do that? Why do you feel that way?
- Once your child feels heard and understood, move on to problem solving. Sometimes your support is the only solution your child needs from you. This is an age where we want to empower kids to learn to start solving their own problems themselves when appropriate. Collaborate with them to find solutions to their problems so they can develop a sense of competence and agency about addressing challenges.
These strategies draw from principles both from Positive Discipline, as well as Attachment Based Family Therapy. If you’re interested in learning more, please contact our team to find out how we can help your family navigate through this challenging time of life.