1. Take time to actively listen
Actively listening means paying close attention to what your child is saying and feeling, rather than thinking of what you want to say next. This shows your child that you care and that you’re interested.
2. Set clear rules about behaviour
Family rules make expectations about behaviour clear. If you can, involve all family members in the discussions about rules. Try to keep the rules positive. For example, instead of saying ‘Don’t be disrespectful,’ you could say, ‘We speak to each other with respect’.
3. Broken rules: follow up calmly, firmly and consistently
You can do this by using a brief and fair consequence that you and your child have agreed on in advance. It helps if you link the consequence to the broken rule – for example, ‘Because you didn’t come home at the agreed time, you’ll need to stay home this weekend’. This also helps you communicate your expectations about future behaviour.
You can read more about setting boundaries and using consequences in our article on discipline strategies for teenagers.
4. Encourage self-reflection
If you need to use a consequence, explain why you’re doing it. This gives your child the chance to reflect on what she could change to stop the problem coming up again. For example, you could say something like, ‘Gemma, I get worried when you stay out late without telling me what you’re doing. Next time, I’ll pick you up at 10 pm. What could you do differently next time so you don’t get a consequence?’
Follow up by asking your child what a fair consequence would be if it happens again.
5. Try to be a positive role model
Children – even teenagers – do as you do, so being a being a role model for your child is a powerful and positive way to guide your child’s behaviour. For example, when your child sees you following the family rules yourself, he gets a powerful example.
6. Choose your battles
Before you get into conflict over your child’s behaviour, ask yourself, ‘Does this really matter?’ and ‘Is this really worth fighting about?’ Less negative feedback means fewer opportunities for conflict and bad feelings.
7. Take your child seriously
Your child is an individual and she needs to know that she’s valued, accepted and respected for who she is. One way to do this is by taking her developing ideas and opinions seriously, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them.
8. Give your child responsibility
Learning to handle responsibility is one of the biggest challenges of adolescence, and an important step towards becoming an adult. Giving your child responsibility in certain areas – like letting him choose his own clothes or hairstyle – can help increase autonomy and independence. It can also help you avoid battles over the little things.
9. Tackle problems in a positive way
Whether it’s an argument with your child or a disagreement with your partner, using positive problem-solving skills to sort things out helps to keep you calm. It also gives your child a great example to follow.
10. Praise your child
Descriptive praise and encouragement are powerful motivators. Teenagers might seem self-sufficient, but your child still wants and needs your approval. When you notice and comment on your child’s responsible choices and positive behaviour, you encourage her to keep behaving in that way. Just remember that teenagers often prefer you to praise them privately rather than in front of their friends.
11. Plan ahead for difficult conversations
When you need to have difficult conversations, it’s a good idea to think ahead about what you’ll say and how your child might feel. This can help you avoid conflict.
Arranging a time and place where you can have some privacy also helps. For example, ‘Izzy, I’d like to make a time to talk with you about some things that are happening around the house. We can talk about it over pizza on Saturday night. OK?’
12. Keep ‘topping up’ your relationship
It might help to think of your relationship with your child as a sort of bank account. Spending time together, having fun and giving help and support are ‘deposits’, but arguments, blaming and criticism are ‘withdrawals’. The trick is to keep the account balanced – or even in the black.
13. Share your feelings
Telling your child honestly how his behaviour affects you can help your relationship. ‘I’ statements can be a big help here. For example, saying ‘I really worry when you don’t come home on time’ will probably get a better response than ‘You know you’re supposed to ring me after school!’
14. Learn to live with mistakes
Everybody makes mistakes, and nobody’s perfect. It’s all about how you deal with mistakes – both your own and your child’s – when they happen. Taking responsibility for mistakes is a good first step, and then working out what you can do to make things better might be your next move.
Saying sorry to your child when you make a mistake helps to keep your relationship going well.
15. Look for ways to stay connected
You can stay connected with your child by spending special and enjoyable time together.
The great thing is that sometimes the best moments are casual and unplanned, like when your child decides to tell you about her day at school over the washing up. When these moments happen, try to stop what you’re doing and give your child your full attention. This sends the message, ‘You’re important to me and I love you’.
16. Respect your child’s need for privacy
Teenagers crave some privacy and a space of their own.
Asking for your child’s permission to enter his room, and not going through his phone or belongings, are ways to show this respect. Another way might be to think about what you really need to know, and what can be left as private between your child and his friends.
17. Encourage a sense of belonging
Family rituals can give your child a sense of stability and belonging at a time when lots of other things around her – and inside her – might be changing. Some families might choose to have Friday family pizza nights, pancakes for breakfast on Sundays, or particular traditions for celebrating birthdays.
18. Keep promises
When you follow through on promises, good or bad, your child learns to trust and respect you. Be clear and consistent, and promise only what you know you can deliver.
19. Have realistic expectations
Just as you might do, your child will probably slip up and break the rules sometimes. Teenagers and their brains are still under construction – they’re still working out who they are. Testing boundaries is all part of the process, so it helps to be realistic about your child’s behaviour.
20. Look for the funny side of things
Laughing or making jokes can help diffuse tension and possible conflict, and stop you and your child taking things too personally. You can also sometimes use a joke or a laugh to kick off a difficult conversation.