by Joy Burgess
We are generally aware of what we say to our teens. We try to be positive, not use negative language, try to speak clearly so that there is no question about what you are trying to communicate to them. But did you ever think about what you don’t say to your teen? Are there things that you aren’t saying to your teen that they want or need to hear? “What do you wish your parents would say to you?” This was the provocative question posed on the website Words are Powerful: The Love Project.
The answers ranged from simple to complex, from funny to heartbreaking, but through it all, a pattern emerged. There are some consistent things that children not only want, but need to hear from their parents. Words are powerful, but the words we don’t say can be just as powerful. Just because you think it, does not mean that your child automatically knows it, or doesn’t need to hear it.
Have you said these ten things to your child recently?
1) I love you
Of course you love your child, no doubt about it, but when was the last time you actually said it? Sometimes we get so wrapped up in what we are doing in our jobs, in our personal lives, in our relationships that we forget to say the obvious but important things. Don’t take it for granted that your child knows that you love him or her. Say it. Sometimes they just need to hear the words.
2) I am proud of you
There are things about your child that make you proud. Maybe they have a gentle, giving heart or maybe they have an exceptional artistic ability. Find at least one thing in your child that you are proud of and let them know about it. When you talk about your child to others, what do you say? What elements about him or her do you mention, even brag about to others? If you find that you are only seeing the negative, then it is a good time to find something positive, something good. Then let them know about it. You might be surprised in the attitude change that a simple “I am proud of you” can bring.
3) I support you in the things you want to do in your life
Your teen is not you. They have different likes and dislikes, they have different interests. To many teens, the feeling that they are not recognized as individuals is very real – and very frustrating. Maybe they grew up in a family of lawyers, but they want to be a writer. Maybe they feel drawn to a different religion or lifestyle. Maybe they grew up in a large family with lots of kids, but have chosen to only have one or two children when they “grow up” and start a family. Whatever the differences are, there is usually at least some anxiety involved when they tell you about it. As a loving, supportive parent, just saying “I support you in the things you want to do in your life” can make all the difference.
4) I believe in you
The teen years are uncertain times. Your child may not feel so sure that they are going to succeed. Do you take the time to remind your child that you believe that they can do whatever they set out to do? Do you offer them your support and faith in them? When was the last time you told your child “I believe in you” or that you believe they can succeed? Now may be the time.
5) I am sorry
No one wants to admit that they were wrong. Sometimes “I am sorry” is the hardest thing to say. But even though you are the parent, it does not mean that you are immune to blunders or making wrong decisions. When you are wrong, admit it. It will not undermine your position as parent in your child’s eyes, rather, it will earn you some respect as they see that you are big enough to admit that you were wrong, that you can own up to your mistakes and that you respect them and their feelings enough to reach out and say “I am sorry.”
6) You’re a good person
Kids need to know that their parents think highly of them and approve of them. Telling them that they are good, sweet, kind, smart and other positive things will help to build their self esteem and strengthen your relationship with them. Children are no different from adults in that they strongly desire and need approval from the people who are closest to them. They need to know that their parents think highly of them and respect them. Take the time to tell your child positive things that you observe about them. Everyone has some good in them and even if your teen is “difficult,” you can certainly find a positive attribute to highlight.
7) It’s OK to love your mom/dad
When a couple divorces, the children are often left in a wake of bitterness and conflict. Many times, a child feels torn between the two parents, feeling as if he or she has to show loyalty to one by shutting out the other. This is a terribly confusing and painful time for a child. Even if you don’t voice your disdain for your former spouse, your feelings are often transmitted to your child. Children are sensitive to their parents’ emotions. Don’t think that just because you don’t actually say anything negative about your former spouse that your child doesn’t pick up on or perceive your negative feelings. Give them permission, tell them, “It’s OK to love your mom/dad.”
8) I accept you
Teens need to feel accepted by their parents. They may not always act like it. In fact, they may even do and say things to make you believe the exact opposite. The truth is, though, they need and want your approval and acceptance. Acceptance is that unconditional love, that knowledge that no matter what they do or say, you will always love them, just as they are. Just those simple words can mean a great deal. Let your teen know, “I accept you.”
9) I didn’t mean it
It happens to pretty much everyone at one time or another, you say something that you didn’t mean. It was cutting; it was cruel. You know that it really hurt the other person’s feelings, but what do you do when it is your child? Some parents don’t think that they need to go back and apologize for words spoken in anger or frustration. They don’t think that they need to let their child know that they did not mean what was said. That is a grave mistake. If you say something to your child and then wish you hadn’t, just suck it up, apologize and say “I didn’t mean it.”
10) You are important/special
This is one of the “biggies.” You might think that your child is important or special, but how many times have you actually told them that you feel that way? Again, saying the words can have a huge impact on your child’s self esteem as well as your relationship with your child. Hug your child (even your teenager!) and tell him or her that they are important, that they are special. It only takes a minute, but it will make a difference.
These things may seem small, but to the people who need to hear these things, they are huge. Take the time to say the words. Actions are important, but the words need to be heard too. Maybe you and your teen can take the time to visit Words are Powerful: The Love Project at wordsarepowerful.wordpress.com. Read what others have written, maybe add your own thoughts, most of all, though, let it open up a line of communication between you and your child. Discuss what they want to hear from you, what they need to hear. Then make an effort to give that to your child. Give them the gift of your words, powerful and true.
Joy Burgess is 28 year old wife and step mom, currently living in Arizona. Her family includes her husband, step son, step daughter, and dog, Chewy. Along with being a full time step mom, Joy also works full time as a writer and musician. Hobbies and interests include scrapbooking, gardening, playing the piano, cooking, and finding a few spare moments of quiet time alone.
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