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Five Secrets for Handling Difficult Teen Situations


By Barbara McRae, MCC

The most common issues between parents and teens arise due to poor communication, power struggles, and a lack of empathy. If you use the same parenting methods that you did when your teen was a younger child, you won't get positive results. You’ll just exhaust your energy.

There are five secrets to help you move from conflict to cooperation.
Let the acronym - CLEAR - aid you in remembering what they are.

  1. Connect
    Connection is everything. You do that by having rapport. It's easy to be in rapport when you like your teen. Yet teenagers are often difficult to like. Did you know that liking someone is not a prerequisite for rapport? The ability to find something likable, however, is necessary.

    To develop rapport, focus on something you can appreciate about your son or daughter. It can be a physical trait (eye color or bright smile), character trait or talent you can admire. If that feels hard, think back to when your child was an infant or toddler. Focusing on a positive aspect of your teen will build connection and prepare you for your next interaction. Then, notice the difference as you feel more connected and in accord with each other.

  2. Listen
    Before you can be a good listener, you need to be willing to get more information. When you listen without being attached to your own point of view, you can become open and less defensive. I suggest you listen consciously without interrupting. Imagine you are hearing the words from the smartest and most admirable person you know.

    Identify feelings, resist the impulse to dismiss feelings or give unsolicited advice. Be interested in your teen; don't make the conversation about you. That would be a turn-off, and over time, you would run the risk of turning your teenager further away, eventually looking for family and "love" in all the wrong places.

  3. Empathize
    Many arguments and much strife would be avoided if you take a moment to step into teens’ shoes, to learn how they perceive their situation. Then, empathize right away. This ability to truly hear and seek to understand causes your teen to feel heard--vital for smooth communications.

    When you empathize, be sincere. Focus on the words and feelings that are given and speak to them. Let your teen know you feel their pain or their joy. Experiencing empathy feels like receiving a hug. Without it, we feel empty and alone. Empathy enhances self-worth and builds harmonious and trustful relationships.

  4. Acknowledge
    Acknowledge your teen's thoughts, feelings, or complaints; this does NOT mean that you are agreeing with them! You are simply and effectively connecting to them by validating what you heard. Some of you might be tempted to skip this step, so strong is our "need to be right." Don't do it!

    Kids need to feel heard so that they know it's safe to talk to you. Empathy together with acknowledgement magically combines into a healing balm for the child in the "pain of anger." Even out-of-control kids will begin to let go of their resistance.

  5. Request
    In coaching teens to success, there is an emphasis on making requests vs. demands. A request is asking someone to do something. When you demand, you paint yourself into a corner. If a demand is declined, it can cause damage to the relationship. Why? Because the biggest stumbling block you'll run into relates to being controlling. Control leads to resentment and resistance - not cooperation.

    Here's an example of a request that states your clear expectation, "I request that you don't call your sister names or use put-downs. If you have suggestions that you think would be helpful to her, and then say it in a respectful and constructive way." Teens are more likely to listen when you make a respectful request.

If you find that you resort to demanding things, you're probably letting your frustrations build up and are waiting too long to ask for what you want.

Barbara McRae, Master Certified Coach, Parent/Teen Expert, and Founder of, “A Neon Whispers ™ Company”, is the bestselling author of Coach Your Teen to Success. Barbara coaches internationally, facilitates workshops, and has been featured in various media outlets, including radio, TV, national magazines, and newspapers.

© 2005 Barbara McRae, MCC.


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