I’m a talker. I’ve always got something to share. Sometimes it even spills out onto the internet. Embarrassing!
When the kids were little, this was great. My constant monologue was developmentally appropriate. “Ooo. There’s a cow. I’m picking up an apple now and I’m putting it in a produce bag. See how red it is? It’s kind of round, huh? Oh, no. You fell down. Jump up.”
But as my kids get older, their needs change. They need more listening and less talking. They need Shut Up Parenting.
Let’s be clear. I’m not saying you should never talk to your older kids. You just need to be more strategic the older they get. Especially with teenagers, it feels like the more you talk, the less they listen. If your wisdom comes in a constant stream, it becomes audio wallpaper and they just stop hearing you.
Listen To Coco Chanel
On more than one occasion I’ve over-pontificated to my children. Either they asked for my advice or I sensed they needed some guidance. Things started out pretty great, but their attention eventually started to drift. Dan gave me a look. And I said, “That went pretty well, right?” and he said, “Yeah. What you said was good, but it was WAY too long.”
Coco Chanel once famously said that you should look in the mirror before you leave the house and choose one accessory to remove. I try to do the same thing when I’m giving advice to my kids. How much can I remove from this conversation and still get my point across?
Give them Room to Think and Grow
My daughter is 15, which feels simultaneously SO young and SO old. She’s two and a half years away from being a legal adult. If I dominate her life and decide everything for her, what will she do when she suddenly leaves home and has to fend for herself? And… we’d have a bumpy ride getting to that point because almost-adults don’t like being bossed around.
Don’t do all the thinking for your kids. Give them a chance to struggle with some hard problems and find their own answers.
They Are Good Problem Solvers
You know that annoying friend who always knows EXACTLY how you should solve all of your most challenging life problems? But then her advice is sort of meh because, although her solutions may work for her, they don’t necessarily work for you. Because you are not clones. Your kids may share some DNA and a family culture with you, but they are also not clones.
Often, they can come up with better solutions to their own problems than you can. Encourage this by listening when they talk and asking questions to get them thinking, rather than offering up ready-made answers to life.
If You Can’t Say Something Nice…
Sometimes I don’t know if I’m raising teenagers or being raised by teenagers. I learn so much about myself every day and some of the lessons are painful. My kids are some of my best friends. But there are times when we want to strangle each other. This parenting stuff is HARD.
If we’re having one of our bad days, choosing not to speak is often my best option. When I’m feeling defensive or angry or critical, I try to breathe through it and wait until my emotions are under control. Nearly every time I’ve done this, my kids have come to me first to make peace and apologize. And our follow-up conversation ends up being WAY more productive.
Give them Time to Process
Growing up, I had a friend who could not handle any discord. So, if I was upset, she wanted to talk it out. It didn’t matter if I wasn’t ready or if I wanted a few minutes to think and be alone. She would force a resolution. It drove me crazy.
And now I find myself doing the same thing with my kids. I can’t rest until everything is all better. BECAUSE I LOVE THEM SOOOO MUCH. But their current life problems are bigger than a skinned knee or a disgusting preschool snack. And they take more time to process.
When we’ve had a fight, when they’ve had a hard day at school, or when they’re having friend problems, sometimes my kids just need me to tell them I love them and then be quiet and present.
Talk When They Want to Talk
If your kids really know you’re there for them when they want to talk, they’ll open up to you. This sometimes means long conversations when you have other things you’d rather be doing. It sometimes means sacrificing a little sleep.
However, if you shoot them down when they want to open up, it’s really hard to get them to spill when you have time for them. Make the time when they’re ready!
Sometimes your kids, being human people, go through a period where they shut you out. Whether it’s for a day or a year, this can be really frustrating. Obviously, you need to keep trying to talk to your kids.
But, if the conversations are never as long or as meaningful as you’d like, consider writing some thoughts out in a letter. Even text messages or sticky notes in their lunch boxes can help you connect with them.
Their eyes may roll, but kids feel loved when they read sincere loving words from their parents.
Above all, keep watching and trying. Watch for signs that they need your help and attention, even interference. Watch for moments where they may be ready to talk. Do your best and never give up.