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When You're in a Rut with Your Teen

Read tips for getting back on track with your teen after a communication breakdown.

When You're in a Rut with Your Teen

There's no doubt that communicating with a teen is a road filled with ruts. It's easy to get stuck. A few bad months of disagreeing over everything can make it seem doubtful that the two of you will ever speak civilly again. Here's what to do:

Danger Zone

If retreating for a time, moving forward with kindness, and then trying to assume a normal relationship doesn't work, consult a professional. Counseling may be able to root out what's troubling your teen.

  • If your spouse is still on good terms with your teen, assign him or her the job of prime communicator.
  • If there is no one to fill this role, then reduce your conversation to the bare necessities. Anything you say should be said civilly and with no sarcasm.
  • Begin looking for nice things to say, whether it's how good she looks on a given day or the fact that (at last) she remembered to dunk her plate in the sink after dinner. Say nice things with good spirit.

    If you're going through a truly horrendous time with your teen, it may seem like you will never be able to think of a nice thing to say, but you will. As you cool down, start remembering what you've always liked about your kid, and from one or two good qualities, more will follow.

    A business executive was once speaking to a colleague about a coworker whom both of them disliked. The colleague asked the executive, “But you seem to accept him in better spirit than I do. How do you do it?” The business executive said, “In sales, I learned that you always have to find one thing to like, and after a lot of observation, I finally realized I really like Jim's ties. As a matter of fact, he's got truly great taste in ties. After that, I could always start a conversation on friendly turf, and we usually do well from there.” The same will follow with your teen (although you'll probably have to find something to like besides his taste in ties).

  • As the tension cools, try to think of something your teen might enjoy doing with you. If the two of you are great basketball fans, splurge on tickets and go. At the event, continue not to nag or say anything negative.
  • As the hostility drops, take small steps toward asserting a normal relationship: “John, could you please see that your uniform gets into the laundry tonight?” should be taken in the spirit in which you said it; if he stomps around and says it's your fault it isn't in the laundry already, then repeat the above steps for a few more weeks to see if a bond can be built.

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