Words matter. This post shares parent phrases to avoid and what to say instead to connect and foster well-being in kids and teens.
With two teenagers under my roof, maintaining connection while also giving my kids space and independence is a balancing act. It requires knowing when to lean in and when to let them be. I don’t always get this right, but I’m trying to cultivate a level of closeness that provides the love and support they need throughout the teen years.
Research finds that parent-child closeness supports kids’ emotional stability and well-being. This gets tricky as teens tend to avoid opening up to their parents. And, parents inadvertently do and say things that shut down communication with their kids.
What do parents say that shuts down communication?
When a child or teen is in distress, whether it’s sadness, worry, or anger, they need their parent’s love and support. Yet, parents’ first instinct is often to tell their child not to feel the way they do. We hate to see our kids hurting or struggling, so we jump into “fix-it” mode. Phrases like “don’t be disappointed” or “don’t be sad” escape our mouths.
Although well-intentioned, these responses invalidate the emotions kids and teens are experiencing. Plus, the knowledge that their parent does not understand leaves them feeling alone. Over time, the child learns that opening up about how they feel makes them feel worse.
What should parents say to connect and foster communication?
It’s important to remember that feelings are never wrong. They are real and what your child is experiencing at that moment. To honor those feelings, here are some phrases to use and avoid.
Three Parent Phrases to Avoid or Say to Connect With Your Kids
Avoid: Don’t be mad. OR You shouldn’t be mad.
Instead Say: You are mad. I understand. You have every right. OR
You’re angry. I’m sure you have a good reason. I want to hear about it.
Avoid: Don’t worry.
Instead Say: That’s a big worry. I get it.
Avoid: You shouldn’t feel that way. OR You are too sensitive.
Instead Say: You have every right to feel ____________. That’s hard.
Empathy – A Path to Connect with Kids
A hefty dose of empathy helps kids and teens feel understood and connected to you. Often, empathy is all they need to begin to feel better, and sometimes, it opens the door to problem-solving. Simply knowing a parent understands allows kids to feel secure and forge ahead. Every parent-child interaction that has that effect builds closeness, one conversation at a time.
Jessica Speer is an author focused on helping kids and families thrive. Her book, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends), releases July 2021. She has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores social-emotional topics in ways that connect with pre-teens and teens. Visit www.JessicaSpeer.com to learn more, follow her blog, or connect on social media.