When my wife and I first became parents, we naïvely assumed our kids would be just like us. I always imagined that we’d have a little “mini me” (or at least a “mini we!”) running around the house. That theory went out the window as our firstborn began “revealing himself.” We had given birth to a highly energetic, creative kid with an extremely high people orientation. Coming from two very analytical, task-oriented MBA types, he was definitely unique among our gene pools! So much for “me plus she equals he!” While it may have taken some time (which, for him may have seemed like an eternity!), we learned to understand and value his uniqueness.
Your kids may be just like you. Or, they may be completely the opposite. Both scenarios present challenges, and it’s easy to misunderstand one another and hit bumps in your relationship. That’s why it’s so important, especially in the teen years when so much is at stake, to build lots of relationship capital with our children.
Imagine a large bucket. Now, picture a stream flowing into it containing essential relationship ingredients like love, trust, respect, understanding, encouragement, fun, humor, shared experiences, and real conversations. The stronger the flow of this stream, the stronger the relationship will be with your teen. When your relationship bucket is full, you’ll gain entrance into your children’s lives, enjoy better two-way communication, understand each other better, and negotiate conflict more peacefully.
Right now, you may be feeling like your relationship bucket with your teen is running on empty. If so, don’t despair! The reality is that the “water level” in any relationship rises and falls over time.
In your relationships, which aspects are flowing strongly and which could use some enrichment? Are there any “leaks” to repair that are causing you or your teen to shut down? If so, here are some ways to refill your relationship bucket:
- Offer to treat them to their favorite coffee shop, burger joint, or frozen yogurt spot. No agenda! Keep it light and let them lead the conversations. Think “share with” rather than “talk to.”
- Offer to do something with them you know they’ll enjoy, even if it’s not your favorite.
- Jot them a note mentioning something you admire or appreciate about them.
- Show interest in their world (music, entertainment, activities) and stay positive.
- Ask for their advice or opinion on something.
- Have real conversation at the dinner table. No TV, no phones.
- Avoid conversation topics that cause sparks. Stay “low risk” until the capital levels have been rebuilt.
By applying this relationship bucket concept, you’ll have a steadier inflow and plug those harmful leaks. In time, you will regain entrance into their world more and more. You’ll also be better positioned for an enduring relationship in the adult years.
How are your bucket levels these days?
Dennis Trittin is President and CEO of LifeSmart Publishing, author of What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead and co-author of Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World. With world-class leadership experience, passionate advocacy for the next generation, and acclaimed resources and speaking engagements on the topics of leadership, life skills, and parenting, Dennis inspires and equips young people and those who guide them. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter!
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