Children look to their parents or primary caregivers for almost everything. From providing the basic necessities like food and shelter to modeling how to talk, how to behave and how to interact with other people, most parents and caregivers realize that they are their children’s primary conduits to the world. Parents and caregivers give children their first lessons in tooth brushing, shoe tying, cooking, cleaning and the fundamentals of how to take care of themselves. What parents and caregivers might not realize, however, is that when they talk to their children, they’re also teaching them how to think about themselves.
According to Bradford Wiles, an early childhood development specialist at Kansas State University,
“… the language that the children hear outside becomes the language they use internally. If they hear language such as, ‘you’re making mistakes; you’re stupid; no, you can’t do that,’ those things begin to be incorporated into their own thoughts.”
For this reason, it’s imperative that parents are careful about how they talk to their children, especially during times of stress.
Give Yourself a Timeout
When parents find themselves getting angry with their children, Wiles advises that the best thing to do may be to take a deep breath and a step back from the situation. Since children – even teenagers – are simply trying to figure things out and don’t yet have the ability to self-regulate the way adults do, it’s the adult’s responsibility to bring balance to the situation.
Using words that shame or blame will be detrimental to your teen’s overall wellbeing and self-esteem. Staying positive when a situation could become negative is an important lesson for young people to learn, and if they see it in their parents, it is a lesson that’s more likely to stick.
Positive Parenting Tips
The Centers for Disease Control website is a great resource for understanding the stages of child and adolescent development, and for finding ideas on how to maintain a positive relationship with your child.
Tips for Early Teens (ages 12-14)
- Act as a resource and guide for your teens, and help teach them how to make positive, healthy life choices.
- Listen to your teenagers. Do your best not to shut down dialog. No matter the topic, give them a chance to talk—you may be very surprised about what they know already.
- If you have a conflict with your teen, make sure to include him in the dialog about rules, consequences, and your expectations of them. Teens are much more likely to adhere to rules they had a say in creating.
Tips for Teens (ages 15-17)
- Praise your teenagers’ achievements. Make sure they know you’re paying attention to them as they grow and learn.
- Don’t be afraid to be affectionate, even if it’s the most embarrassing thing on earth (for them). Find activities you can do together, and enjoy them.
- Listen to your teenager and show respect for his or her attitude and unique point of view. Do not belittle ideas.
- Teach your teenager to always live in the solution, and not get bogged down in the problem. Set up situations that allow teens to make decisions on their own, but always be there to counsel them if they get stuck.
- Role model positive, proactive decision making, and remember – even when they’re teenagers and act like they know everything and don’t need you at all, they’re still watching everything you do. They’re far more likely to do what you do than what you say.
Establishing open, honest, and direct lines of communication in childhood is the key to maintaining positive relationships with your children throughout their teenage years and into adulthood. Communicate early and often with your children. Establish an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust, and they will keep coming to you as they grow and mature – and not just for money or the car keys, but also for advice on life’s toughest challenges.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.