How many of you have tried to help your daughter navigate an emotional upset, only to be confronted with a: “You don’t understand me!” or “You just don’t get it!”?
You see, very often, when adolescent girls are frustrated, angry or upset, they aren’t looking for solutions or advice. They are simply looking to connect with us by feeling understood.
At first glance, we might evaluate the scenario and feel like our teen is blowing things out of proportion or missing out on an obvious solution. But we cannot allow our adult logic and life experience to get in the way of our ultimate goal: to make sure our teens feel connected and understood. And that starts, first and foremost, with active listening.
Active listening involves not just hearing words, but the underlying message. Active listening requires that you pay attention by looking at your teen and avoiding distractions. Show your child that you’re listening by opening up your posture, nodding, and commenting with “uh huh” or “yes.” You might be tempted to interrupt or offer solutions or comments. HOLD YOURSELF BACK and JUST LISTEN to what is being said. Your child is giving you information and perspective. Don’t interrupt or diminish the gift that they are giving you.
Once you have listened, it is important to understand that you cannot cheer someone up by discounting or criticizing their feelings. That is where empathy comes in.
When your child is frantically upset, they are looking to you to empathize with them. They need you to understand their perspective and emotions. ACKNOWLEDGE them. “I get it. That’s really upsetting,” or “I absolutely understand why that would make you angry,” or, “I didn’t get it at first, but now that you explained yourself, I realize why that totally stinks!” or “When I was your age, I got really upset about that too. It was really hard!”
Sometimes, the only boost your adolescent needs is to feel like you listened, and you understood. Other times, they might need help finding a solution or seeing another’s perspective. START with listening and empathizing. Then ask them what they would find helpful. They might want a hug, an “I love you” or a strategy for moving forward. When you are present and supportive, they will help guide you in what they need in the moment.