Positive relationships and staying connected

In adolescence parents and children often begin to spend more time apart. It’s natural for teenagers to explore relationships with friends and other people outside their families.

But your child still needs a strong relationship with you to feel safe and secure as she meets the challenges of adolescence.

Staying connected with your teenage child is about building closeness in your relationship by being available and responsive to your child. It’s more than just spending time around each other – after all, family members can sometimes share the same physical space without really connecting.

Connecting can be casual, which involves using frequent everyday interactions to build closeness. Or connecting can be planned – this is when you schedule time to do things together that you both enjoy.

If you stay connected with your child, you’ll be in a good position to pick up on any problems that your child might be having. Your child is also more likely to come to you with problems.

Casual connecting with your child

Casual connecting is a way of using everyday interactions to build closeness and positive relationships. The best opportunities for casual connecting are when your child starts a conversation with you – this generally means he’s in the mood to talk.

Tips for casual connecting

  • Stop what you’re doing and focus on the moment. Even for just a few seconds, give your child your full attention. Connecting works best when you send the message that right now, your child is the most important thing to you.
  • Look at your child while she’s talking to you. Really listen to what she’s saying. This sends the message that what she has to say is important to you.
  • Show interest. Encourage your child to expand on what he’s saying, and explore his views, opinions, feelings, expectations or plans.
  • Listen without judging or correcting. Your aim is to be with your child, not to give advice or help unless she asks for it.
  • Just be there – for example, you might be in the kitchen when your child is in his bedroom. Teenagers benefit just from knowing that you’re available.

You can also actively try to create opportunities for casual connecting, but don’t push it if your child doesn’t want to talk. Trying to force a conversation can lead to conflict and leave the two of you worse off.

When you stop what you’re doing and really listen to your child, you’re telling her that she’s important, respected and worth your time.

Planned connecting with your child

Planned connecting involves scheduling time to do things with your child that you both enjoy.

Busy lives and more time apart can make it difficult to spend fun time together. That’s why you need to plan it. Teenagers aren’t always enthusiastic about spending time with their parents, but it’s worth insisting that they do – at least sometimes.

Tips for planned connecting

  • Schedule time together. You need to find a time that suits you both. Initially, it can help to keep the time short.
  • Let your child choose what you’ll do, and follow his lead. This will motivate him to want to spend time with you.
  • Concentrate on enjoying your child’s company. Try to be an enthusiastic partner and actively cooperate with what your child is doing – the activity itself is less important than shared fun and talking with your child.
  • Be interested and accepting, rather than correcting your child or giving advice. It’s not easy to give up the teaching and coaching role, but this is a time for building and improving your relationship. So if you see a mistake or an easier way to do something, let it go without comment.
  • Keep trying and stay positive. At first, your child might not be as keen as you to take part in these activities, but don’t give up. Keep planned times brief to begin with, and your child will come to enjoy this time with you.
Teenagers who have stable, warm, trusting and open relationships with  their parents are better equipped to develop independence and grow into  responsible adults. They’re also more likely to be successful at  handling risky situations like smoking, alcohol and other drug use,  and sexual activity.

Overcoming obstacles to connecting

Your child avoids spending time with you
Making the most of everyday opportunities to connect – like chatting while you’re driving – can help you get over this hurdle. If your child is reluctant to spend scheduled time with you, you could try the following:

  • Keep it brief to begin with – try a cup of coffee at a favourite café after school, for example.
  • Let your child choose the activity – even if you do have to sit through a teenage romantic comedy or action movie!
  • Don’t give up – it might take a little while but the more time you spend together, the more you can both relax into it.

Your child refuses to talk with you about what she’s doing
You and your child might feel closer if you make the most of casual conversations during the day. Every little chat is an opportunity to listen and talk in a relaxed, positive way.

You feel you’re the only one who’s making an effort
If you’re kind and considerate with your child, this can help create goodwill and positive feelings. Often, simple things make a big difference – for example, saying please, giving hugs, pats on the back, knocking before entering a bedroom, cooking a favourite meal, providing treats or surprise fun activities.

This approach creates a more positive environment, even if your child isn’t joining in. Make a point of doing kind things, even when you don’t feel like it. If you wait to feel positive before you act positively, you might never do it.

And when you feel like you’re the one doing all the work, try to remember that this phase will usually pass.