Ways to Strengthen the Connection with your Teenager

Recently, while wasting time on Facebook, I saw a post that caught my attention. It was a list of 23 questions to ask your children. Many of my friends were posting their kid’s often hilarious and sometimes brutally truthful answers.

I did some searching and think this is the original blog post:

I am a sucker for these kinds of posts, so of course I went home and that night I asked my son the questions!

Want to try with your own kids? Here are the questions (with some slight modifications):

WITHOUT ANY prompting, ask your child these questions and write down EXACTLY what they say. It is a great way to find out what they really think.

1. What is something mom always says to you?

2. What makes mom happy?

3. What makes mom sad?

4. How does your mom make you laugh?

5. What was your mom like as a child?

6. How old is your mom?

7. How tall is your mom?

8. What is her favorite thing to do?

9. What does your mom do when you’re not around?

10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for?

11. What is your mom really good at?

12. What is your mom not very good at?

13. What does your mom do for a job?

14. What is your mom’s favorite food?

15. What makes you proud of your mom?

16. If your mom were a character, who would she be?

17. What do you and your mom do together?

18. How are you and your mom the same?

19. How are you and your mom different?

20. How do you know your mom loves you?

21. What does your mom like most about your dad?

22. Where is your mom’s favorite place to go?

23. How old was your mom when you were born?

The conversation with my son about these questions reminded me of back when my son was in preschool. For Mother’s Day that year each student was “interviewed” about their mom. One of the questions was “how old is your mom?” my son responded with “84.”  He still likes to tease me about when he thought I was 84 years old! At least now he knows how old I am, even if he still refers to me as a senior citizen.

My son is no longer that preschooler. He’s turning 13 this March. Our relationship has morphed naturally with time. While for him family once encapsulated his existence, family is no longer the entirety of his world; friends make up at least half if not more of his life and activities.

As your child enters the teenage years they will become fully invested in the developmental goals of differentiation and independence. Or to put it in every day terms, there’s going to be some arguing happening around limits and rules as your teen learns how to grow up. These are natural conflicts that can unfortunately lead to strain and a distanced relationship. You may have noticed this growth in your own kids. Maybe they used to cuddle in your lap after dinner, whereas now they would rather facetime a friend and watch a new music video.

As any parent who has survived the teenage years with their children can attest, it’s a challenge to remain connected and close. Finding ways to spark conversations, to find commonalities, to create positive interactions can be a struggle. As with any relationship it takes effort.

Here are a couple of things you can try that might help you connect better with your teenager:

Participate in your teen’s activities and life. As your child moves into the teenage years, they will be developing and asserting their own interests more strongly by the day. Their drive to develop independence means they will be trying new activities. Allowing and supporting your child becoming more independent doesn’t mean backing away completely. If anything, it’s even more important now that you take an active interest in things that interest your child. Even if they are into an activity that you do not enjoy, be there for them. For example, learn about the music your child likes, the YouTubers they watch, the video games they play, and the social media platforms they are on. Remember actions speak louder than words. By participating in your child’s interests you are letting your child know that you value and care about them and their interests.

Shared journal.  As our children get older their comfort with verbally expressing their experiences, thoughts and emotions will wax and wane. Communicating through writing can be effective for many adolescents. One way you can do this is by using a notebook and writing back and forth to each other. You can use formal prompts where both the parent and child each respond to a common question, or it can be more informal by just sharing ideas throughout the day.  If you need ideas and prompts for writing, a fellow therapist, Bethany Raab shared this great post of 52 journal prompts for you and your teen to use to strengthen your relationship. 

Talk about the sticky stuff. As your child enters the teen years, they will eventually hear about and be exposed to some very mature issues: dating and sex, alcohol and drug use, domestic violence, self-harm, skipping school, and illegal activities like theft and vandalism.

Consider how you want your child to get information about any of the above topics. Do you want them learning about intimate experiences from their friends, social media, the internet, or movies and television? Or do you want them to learn about these issues from you, where you can provide them reliable and accurate information, and also encourage them to make choices that are the best for them?

It’s tough to bring up these topics (probably just as awkward an experience for you as it is for your child), but I guarantee you, your teenager is already starting to think about it.

Planned date nights.  As your child enters adolescence their interests will become more mature. You will no longer have to endure hour after hour of cartoons, but instead can try new adventures. Just like you plan for spending time with family and friends, planning a date night with your child will give you the opportunity for connection.  If you have more than one child, plan individual date nights with each. During your date night be sure to let your teen have a say in the activity, make it an electronics free zone (for both you and your child), and put forth the intention of connecting with your child.

Surviving the teenage years is possible, even if it’s not pretty. As author Andy Kerckhoff describes:

“Embrace your beautiful mess of a life with your child. No matter how hard it gets, do not disengage... Do something—anything—to connect with and guide your child today.”

What do you do to remain connected and attached to your teenager? I’d love to hear about it, drop me a line at adrianajoynermft@gmail.com or call at 916-537-3997.

Adriana Joyner, LMFT, is a Sacramento Area therapist who specializes in providing counseling to people healing from trauma and abuse, and those within the LGBTQIA community. Her office is located in Gold River, CA located off Highway 50 at Sunrise Blvd.  For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call (916) 547-3997 or email adrianajoynermft@gmail.com.

Healing from the Death of a Parent

It’s an inevitable fact that at some point our parents will die.

For many the grief from the loss of a parent can be profound. There are times that you may feel unable to breathe the grief is so heavy.  Meaningful days (birthdays, holidays, anniversaries) will hit you like a hurricane, leaving you feeling like a chaotic mess.

If you have recently experienced a parent’s death, this will be a difficult time for you.  It’s ok for you to acknowledge you may be struggling; it’s ok to pause or slow down. There may be pressure for you to hold it together, or be a pillar of strength. I’m giving you permission: you don’t have to be everything to everyone!

Finding ways to manage with your own feelings and daily functioning can be a challenge. Here are some ways that you can start the healing process after the death of a parent.

Support: This could be meeting regularly with a close friend, connecting with family members, attending a grief and loss support group (if you’re in the Sacramento area check out these), or getting professional support from a therapist. A therapist that you trust will be able to guide you in processing your feelings and finding ways to heal from this significant loss.

Connection:  Identify a few ways that you felt connected with your parent. Maybe you shared a love for the same style of music or your parent always coached your sport team as a teenager. Whatever connection you had, identify a way to celebrate that. Some examples would be: see a sport game to honor your parent, download a new album of your parent’s favorite band, or keep a picture of you and your parent with you to remember the positive times.

Remembrance:  While attending the memorial services of a loved one can be emotional, it can also be one of the most healing experiences in your journey. Memorials allow you to connect with others that also loved and cared for your parent, share funny, poignant and loving memories, and share in the sadness of the loss with others.

For some individuals, choosing to remember their parent in a private, individual way feels right. You may want to a create ritual as a way to honor your parent, possibly lighting a candle and saying a prayer for them, having their favorite meal on special days, or letting balloons off to send messages to heaven.

Self-Care: Honor yourself and where you are at.  Grief is a complicated process and healing from the death of a parent looks different for each person. Drop the judgment about where you “should” be, how you “should” be healing, or what you “should” be feeling. There are no rights or wrongs. What you are feeling and experiencing is alright.

While this is probably the most challenging time for you to focus on your own self-care, this is the most important time for you to do so. Basic needs like eating nourishing foods throughout the day, trying to keep a consistent routine, doing things to ensure good sleep at night, connecting with friends and family, and moving your body with exercise daily will help you regulate your emotions.

Know what your limits are. Identify where you feel comfortable and where to draw the line. There will be extra demands upon your time, from managing the estate to family needs. Be aware of what you can give and what can wait, and be clear in setting those limits.

When the grief won’t go away: It’s impossible to put a timeframe on how long healing from a loss will take. For most, healing is a slow but a steady process toward beginning to feel at peace with the loss.

There are times when you may feel “stuck” in grief. If the heaviness and pain lingers in your life and begins to impact your daily functioning (caring for yourself or your family, impacting your ability to work, etc.) you may need additional support.

If you would like some support in your healing journey, please reach out to me at 916-547-3997. I’m here to help. Also, if you know someone who is experiencing the loss of a parent, please share this post to support them in their healing.

 

Adriana Joyner, LMFT, is a Sacramento Area therapist who specializes in providing counseling to people healing from trauma and abuse, and those within the LGBTQIA community. Her office is located in Gold River, CA located off Highway 50 at Sunrise Blvd.  For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call (916) 547-3997 or email adrianajoynermft@gmail.com.

 

Navigating Conflict

You found out a friend of yours was talking about you behind your back.

She said some hurtful, and frankly inaccurate, things about you to another person and it got back to you.

Over the past few weeks she’s been short with you, making rude comments under her breath, being avoidant.  Recently she got very mad, yelling at you, calling you names and attacking you verbally.

You feel small around her, like you aren’t good enough. You shut down when she is attacking, not sure what to say or do. You’re not sure what to do to make it stop.

 

Sometimes it’s difficult to stand up to a dominant person because you don’t feel confident about yourself. Maybe you tend to avoid conflict because you believe your needs aren’t important, or you worry that if you ask for what you need people won’t follow through or take you seriously.

Experiencing challenging, traumatic, or abusive situations in your past impacts the way you view yourself and your ability to stand up and be assertive with others. Negative self-talk keeps you in the same cycle, possibly believing that you deserve the aggression.

 

So what can you do when a person in your life is being a bully?

Try these steps to navigate conflict with a challenging person:

Distance yourself.  In most situations finding ways to distance yourself will help you gain perspective to the situation. It’s possible this person is a friend, acquaintance, parent at your child’s school, coworker. Look at where you see and interact with this person and find ways to take a step back. Maybe you skip the PTA meeting for a week, eat lunch in a new area to avoid this person at work, or change your daily routine around. A small break will help you gain perspective on how to interact and change this situation.

Be assertive. Use clear, direct and assertive communication. Tell this person how you are feeling and ask for a change in the situation.  Here’s an example of a statement that can help you speak assertively:  I feel ________ (describe your feeling) when ______ (situation that is happening). I would like __________ (describe your desired solution).  Be very clear about what outcome you would like (for example, you want them to stop talking about you behind your back).

Remind yourself that “It’s not me, it’s you”.  I’m not talking about shirking all your responsibility. A vital step in resolving conflict is to take an honest evaluation of the situation, own your stuff, own your part in contributing to the situation, and then recognize what part the other person has in this encounter.

Recognizing your responsibility means finding out how your actions contributed and making steps to change. After that, reminding yourself “It’s not me, it’s you” can be a helpful part in not taking all the blame. 

Seek support.  Enlisting support from those around you to address the situation with this person may be necessary. If this is occurring in the workplace, notify a supervisor or human resources. If it’s a friend, ask a mutual friend to help mediate the interactions. The key here is to speak up and ask for help from others.

Evaluate the relationship. If the above steps haven’t made a difference in the relationship, it may be time to evaluate if this relationship is important to you and worth keeping. It may be time to gently cut ties and move on.

Taking the steps above will help you assert the power you have inside of you. You have confidence inside, but it might be hidden or have been stifled in the past. Be bold. Take the time to evaluate what is right for you in this moment, and then do what works!

If you need support or help finding the best way to be assertive with a challenging person in your life get in touch with me. I’d love to help. You can email me directly at adrianajoynermft@gmail.com or call at 916-547-3997.

 

Adriana Joyner, LMFT is a Sacramento Area therapist who provides psychotherapy to people healing from trauma and abuse, and gender support for those within the LGBTQIA community. She has an office located in Gold River, CA located off Highway 50 at Sunrise Blvd.  To schedule an appointment, please call (916) 547-3997 or email adrianajoynermft@gmail.com.