Tag Archive for: How do I connect with my teen?

How Do You Stack Up in the Affection Department?

As my kids get older, I’m realizing that I’m not quite as affectionate as I used to be.  After all, they know that I love them–right?

When they were younger, it was easy to give them a kiss on top of their head as I wiped jelly off their face, or hold them in my lap after putting ointment on a skinned knee.  But now that my kids are taller than I am and definitely a little bulkier, holding them as we sit on the floor together is certainly not an option.

As our kids start to become more independent and we’re more worried about getting them to soccer practice or dance lessons on time and making sure they have their homework done, we sometimes forget the simple things in life–and affection can be one of them.  Stress typically keeps us centered on the next task and striking things off the to-do list rather than helping us focus on the relationship.

Did you know that appropriate physical affection can elevate a hormone called oxytocin that causes a calming sensation?  There is also a scientific study that shows that appropriate physical touch helps build trust in a relationship.  After all, we certainly want our kids to trust us.  But there is also evidence that physical connection puts us in a better mood the next day.  And, of course, most of us would prefer that over the sometimes hormone induced negativism.

Our kids need to feel that they are lovable and affection shows we care.

However, affection doesn’t only need to be physical.  Sometimes verbal affection can be just as important as physical touch.  While a soft hand on the shoulder or a ruffling of our teen’s hair denotes endearment, sometimes our kids just want to hear the words.  “I believe in you”, “You can do this”, and “You know that I love you, don’t you?”, if said with sincerity in a moment that brings connection will breed a relationship that withstands the struggles of conflict and disagreement.

Remember that the timing of affection can be everything.

I’m laughing as I’m writing this as I’m reminded of when my son was in grade school and used to have his best friend sleep over on a regular basis. I’d put blankets on the family room floor and say prayers with them as I tucked them in for the night.  And my ritual was the same.  I’d give my son a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and do the same with his buddy.  Every time, the routine was the same and we’d laugh together.

As they moved into the teen years, I remember bringing the blankets downstairs as I usually did; however, this time I didn’t pray with them or tuck them in.  I said something like, “You two are old enough to say your prayers and tuck yourself in.”  To which my son’s friend replied, “But you have to kiss us before we can go to sleep.”

And I did.

I was communicating to both of them that I loved them.  They were used to the affection and wanted to know that even though they were growing up, my love didn’t need to change.

That said, in any other circumstance, giving my teen affection in front of his friends would have embarrassed him beyond belief.  That’s where the timing of affection comes in.  In intimate settings where patterns have been established our teens will appreciate it; otherwise we need to respect them in public settings so that they won’t be the target of ridicule by their friends who don’t have appropriate affection modeled.

So what can you do, if affection hasn’t been a regular staple in your home?  What if it feels awkward and something you aren’t used to?

Start small.

A touch on the hand, a rubbing on the shoulder, or a playful tickle on the neck might be a good place to start.  Find a one-on-one time where you are alone together talking and make a gentle move.  Don’t be surprised if they look at you funny or say something like, “You’ve never done that before.”  

Rather than being embarrassed and backing off, say something like, “I just miss the closeness we used to have when you were little.  You’re growing up on me.  I just know that sometimes I like someone to show me affection.  Know that you can come get a hug from me anytime you like.”  And go on with whatever else you are doing.

I’ve always found that nighttime is a good time for words of affection.  Knocking on the door soon after one of my kids has gone to bed has been a great time to say, “Goodnight, I love you.”  

If you find your kids feeling down or sad, hugs are usually welcomed.  Go slow with a side hug if it hasn’t been something your kid is used to.  My guess is that as the new behavior continues, they’ll seek you out more for their hug.

And if they are those rare kids that don’t like physical touch, try a fist bump or a high-five.  It still says that they are lovable and important to you.

Romans 12:10

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

“Let go…and Let God”,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are You Emotionally Connected to Your Teen?

As I talk to a lot of moms of teens and ask about their kids, I typically hear about the struggles to achieve. Whether it be tryouts for a sports team, a certain score on an AP exam, practicing for a musical showcase, or getting into the college of choice, society places a lot of pressure on our kids to be the best. And, if truth be told, sometimes it is us as parents adding to the stress. Competition is stiff and as our kids move toward high school graduation, the stakes seem to be getting higher. After all, most kids are competing for those limited scholarship opportunities that we think our kids deserve.

Yet, what I’m finding interesting as my kids have moved to become 20 and 30 somethings, is that a lot of those kids who pushed so hard to achieve end up losing in the end. When the competition becomes overwhelming, or stress of exams becomes too much, and even the pressure on the job seems formidable, they don’t know how to handle the feeling of ‘not measuring up’. They don’t know how to objectively look at a situation and know if it is good for them.

I know that competition can be a good thing and high achievement is good for our society. Helping our kids to become independent and launch is what we should all be striving toward as parents. However, if we forget the connection part during the teen years, we’re setting our kids up for a lonely existence and the inability to assess their emotional needs in high pressure situations.

I grew up in a family where emotions weren’t allowed. Tears meant I was a crybaby. Emotion meant that I wasn’t tough enough. Feelings were to be stuffed or people wouldn’t want to be around me. And jokes or silliness were instinctively inserted to take away the knot in the pit of my stomach.

Avoiding anything emotional was the game that was played–not out of insensitivity but because it wasn’t in my parent’s vocabulary. Dealing with emotion hadn’t been passed down from their parents.

However, we are emotional beings. God wired our brains with both the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala so that we can think and feel. Connection comes from the feeling part of our brain. And it is possible to under-develop the emotional part of our brains so that we stifle our growth toward healthy connection.

Thankfully, what I have discovered is that emotional connection can be learned. While it might feel foreign and uncomfortable at first and, like my experience, you might have to consciously think through the next step, the benefits for both us and our kids can be game changers when it comes to connection in the relationship.

If you are like me and didn’t learn to deal with emotion as a child, you are probably stifling the emotional connection with your own kids. Here are some ways to recover what has been lost as you forge ahead toward becoming more emotionally healthy creating more meaningful connection with your own kids.

  1. Learn to notice your kids when they are stressed out. What attitudes, behaviors, or reactions do they exhibit? If you see moodiness, anger, withdrawal, or complaining, ask them to put words to what they are feeling. Be available to listen without judgment or telling them “you shouldn’t feel that way.”
  2. Learn to notice when you are stressed out.  What are you exhibiting? Name it. And when your teens challenge you by saying something like, “Why are you in such a bad mood?”, be honest with them. Let them know if you are feeling angry, sad, or upset and the “why” within reason.
  3. Comfort yourself. When you find yourself stressed out, allow yourself to feel it, name it, and normalize it. Give yourself a physical hug and let yourself know that you have a right to feel what you feel. Then ask yourself what you need.
  4. Comfort your kids. Physical touch, hugs, and soothing words go a long way in helping our teens know that even in the middle of what feels like disaster they will be okay. Say something like, “You seem to be really upset right now, would you like to tell me about it?” If they say “yes”, listen and validate their feelings. Ask them what they need from you.  If they say “no”, respect their decision and let them know that you are available to listen when they are ready.

Psalm 23: 1-6

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Learning to connect emotionally with our kids is like being Jesus with skin on. Even though they are walking through an emotional valley, we have the ability to comfort them through our tenderness, our touch, and validating words so they have the desire to pick themselves up and move forward.

By doing the same for ourselves and validating our own feelings, we are modeling healthy maturity in what life can be like when the chips are down and we ourselves become overwhelmed. This is showing our kids what healthy adulthood can look like.

“Let go…and Let God”,

Do you wish you knew more skills to emotionally connect with your teen?  Why not start a group with other moms to learn how.  With All Due Respect: 40 Days to a More Fulfilling Relationship with Your Teens & Tweens is a great place to start.  If you can’t find a group, feel free to join our on-line eCourse where you will find daily encouragement and can interact with other moms in the same place in the parenting journey.

Another opportunity I’d like to share is our Deflating Defensiveness Training Retreat in Milford, Ohio that will be held June 27-30.  There you will interact with moms who are brave enough to try out the skills in person in a safe environment.  You’ll see behaviors taught, modeled, and you’ll have opportunity to practice.  You’ll walk away with a new perspective on what relationships can be in your home.