Speaking the Words to Open the Door 1/28/18


Speaking the Words to Open the Door

Not to brag, but I can make my kids angry by just saying ‘good morning’
— Sarcastic Parent

“You’re wearing that? Why is this here? Why don’t you be more careful? Do you really think that’s a good idea?  Why would you want to do that?” We’ve said and heard these words, yet these questions do not evoke responses and further sharing. On reflection we realize how they can be interpreted as criticism disguised as questions.


We can’t tell you how many times we’ve felt like our feet landed in our mouths while trying to connect and have conversations with our kids.  The irony is that, each time, we were working hard to formulate every word and convey our desires to connect. Yet, despite our good intentions, our attempts still backfired.

The eye roll, the cringed eye brow, and the disgusted look prompt us to wonder what we are doing wrong. How are we communicating to those around us?  Do our sentences have unintended hidden meaning? Or do our questions solicit a connection and open the door for dialogue? We know that a sentence or question can be phrased in a way to elicit warmth and as a welcome invitation to healthy communication.  Yet, we can all learn to open the door to connection more successfully and create better conversations with our teens.

Although we may not want to be judgmental, the truth is that it can slip into our tone and words- especially if we are in the habit of feeling judged or of judging ourselves. Our own experiences may also make it difficult to notice when our (or others’) compliments may be interpreted as judgment. Our teens are learning the subtle differences and taking cues from our tone and body language.  A humorous example of parent-teen dialogue is illustrated below from the critically acclaimed movie Lady Bird.

Marion McPherson (Mom): If you're tired, we can sit down.

Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson: I'm not tired.

Mom: Oh, okay. I just couldn't tell because you were dragging your feet.

[Lady Bird rolls her eyes] Well, I just couldn't tell.

'Lady Bird': Why didn't you just say "pick up your feet"?

Mom: I didn't know if you were tired.

'Lady Bird': You're being passive aggressive.

Mom: No, I wasn't.

'Lady Bird': You are SO INFURIATING!

Mom: Please stop yelling.

'Lady Bird': I'm not yelling.

'Lady Bird': [Marion picks out a pink dress] Oh, it's perfect!

Mom: Do you love it?

As parents, it helps to consider the kind of long-term relationship we want with our kids. Our approach will differ depending on whether our goal is to control now (“Do as I say”) or develop a relationship for the future. How we relate to our kids changes as they become older and more independent. As we navigate parenting our own teens, we’ve welcomed and are grateful for the tips included in the resources we have linked below. (For example: “Acknowledging is like emotional first aid for anything teens go through – the big things, the little things, the anythings”). We hope you find your own favorite to learn from and put into practice.  Also, remember we’re all learning as we go, don’t forget to love yourself and your kids on the journey.


●      Tips for Communicating With Your Teen: Keeping the Parent-Child Relationship Strong During a Tricky Age

●      Effective Communication and Teenagers and Things to Try (2018)