Do you struggle to understand your teenager?

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Understanding your teen

Try this exercise to figure out what your teen (or child of any age) is thinking, feeling, yearning for and needing from you.

Sometimes teenagers act in ways that truly mystify us. We want to help them, ask something of them, or appeal to their sense of fairness or logic, but nothing seems to be working. If you’ve tried to put yourself in your kid’s shoes and still can’t understand them, this exercise is for you.

1. Pretend like your kid is a funny zoo animal. You are looking at them in their cage, totally curious and perplexed, but without emotion. You decide you’d like to study this animal like a Scientist would. (This won’t work if you are in worry, frustration, self-pity or any emotion other than neutral curiosity).

2. Ready?  Ok, Scientist, the next step is to EMBODY your teenager. Like an actor getting into character, you are going to BECOME your child. Think about his posture, his voice tone, volume and articulation. Think about the words he chooses. Imagine you are in his bedroom (or wherever he spends the most time.) Look around as though this is your room, your books, your backpack, your clothes, etc. Imagine looking at his phone as though it’s your phone, what’s on there? Who is contacting him? What does he look up when he’s bored? Think to yourself “I am (my teenagers name)”

3. BE your teenager and name 3 adjectives to describe YOU as your teen. For example, “I am tired, I am stressed, and I am lonely.” or “I am uncertain, I am nervous, and I am happy”

4. Then think to yourself this sentence, “What I yearn for the most is _______” and see what pops into your head. Then do, “I am _____ (teen) and the message I’m trying to send my Mom is………”. (If you hear your own voice coming in or any of your negative emotions, go back to step one.) 

5. Finish this next sentence with whatever shows up in your mind, “What I need most right now from my Mom is ………” Try it again with Dad, siblings, etc. If this is working and you are learning from it, try adding on “When I look ahead to my future I feel ……”

This is exercise is easy for me because as a life coach, my empathy dial is always turned up very high. Not all of us practice tuning into others on a regular basis so be patient with yourself if you find your own thoughts and feelings don’t go away that easily.

Remember that the primary need for all of us, including our funny, teenage zoo animals, is to be SEEN, HEARD and FELT. When all else fails, stop talking, look them in the eye and just listen. There’s a lot of information coming through those howls and growls. 🙂

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