I work with children, adolescents, and families on a daily basis and one issue of concern for many of the parents I see is that they are having difficulty connecting with their children/adolescents. One of the common reports from parents is that they try to engage their child/adolescent and they get snapped at when they are only trying to “help”. It is this concept of “help” that I focus on with parents. I work with parents on hearing their children/adolescent and truly understanding their child/adolescents needs. This is in contrast to how many parents try to help their children/adolescents. Often parents will try to teach their child/adolescent by telling them a story of how they went through something similar and describe how they worked through the problem or give their child/adolescent a lecture regarding the logical and right thing to do. Unfortunately, both attempts to “help” end up distancing parents from their child/adolescent.
Children/adolescents becoming more distant from their parents, talking with their parents less, isolating in his/her room more, and irritability when interacting are some of the signs that there is trouble in the parent-child/adolescent relationship. If these signs go undetected or are not intervened upon the relationship may fracture and the child/adolescent may find themselves in a challenging place having no one to confide in when difficulties arise.
If parents begin to notice any of the aforementioned signs of distancing in their relationship with their child/adolescent one of the first things they should look to do is change the way they communicate with their child/adolescent. I often talk with parents about having to learn a new language to communicating with their child/adolescent that involves more reflection and understanding. I talk with parents about following their child/adolescent’s lead and not directing the conversation to an immediate solution. By maintaining silence, allowing their child/adolescent to talk, the parent will learn more about their child and by focusing on and reflecting to their child/adolescent what they emotionally see them struggling/dealing with, their child/adolescent will feel a stronger connection with, and understanding from their parent, ideally making them more likely to open up in the future.
In addition to seeking out therapeutic support to assist with parent-child/adolescent communication, a great resource for parents is the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. This book is written in easy to understand text and provides clear guidelines for parents’ to follow to improve both their communication to their child/adolescent as well as be good listeners with their children/adolescents.
Dr. Ryan Loss is a licensed clinical psychologist and the Director of Clinical and In-Home Services at Connecticut Behavioral Health, LLC, a group psychology practice in Cheshire, CT. He received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Texas A&M University where his clinical and research work focused on treating childhood behavior problems and parent therapy techniques. Dr. Loss completed his clinical internship at Franciscan Hospital for Children where his clinical work focused on assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with significant behavioral and emotional difficulties in both residential and outpatient settings. He then completed his Residency year with Connecticut Behavioral Health, LLC, expanding his clinical practice to the treatment of adults in addition to children, adolescents, and families. Dr. Loss specializes in individual and family therapy addressing issues of emotional, behavioral, and psychological functioning with a particular focus on parent training. Dr. Loss has worked with children, adolescents, families, and adults in university, hospital, community, and school settings, and now private practice. Dr. Loss has taught psychology at the undergraduate level, supervised postdoctoral level clinicians, provided in-service trainings for school districts and parent organizations, and presented research on behavior problems at national conferences.