Ten Minutes / Day
TBRI encourages a minimum of 10 minutes of uninterrupted time of connection each day with your child. Just enter their world, get physically close to them (within 3 feet), look interested in what they like, ask questions, relax and laugh together. Here is what I mean:
- Video gaming: If your teen is a gamer, play their fav game with them. It might be super annoying, it might feel awkward, you might not be good. I have been there. I felt ridiculous at first. But trust me. Just do it. Sit next to them, ask for their help, laugh at yourself and high five when they are successful. Don’t try to be the best and beat your teen, the key is to make it playful and fun. They are not looking for you to be awesome, they are looking for your acceptance and love. And if you are anything like me, it will probably look a little like this “Gaming with my Mom - The Tonight Show”
- Sports & Hobbies: If your child has an activity they are passionate about, join them in it. Again, you might not be good, just be into it together. For example, my teens are really into basketball. I am 5’2” and have never felt comfortable playing this sport. But I downloaded a training app on my phone and would take one of our boys to the gym and I learned how to run some basic drills with him. Then he asked me to record him taking some shots on his phone so he could post it on social media. So I made it really fun and I celebrated him and we would laugh together. It wasn’t about getting him a college scholarship, it was about connection.
- Music: If your child has a fav artist or genre, learn about it. Ask them to hang out with you for 10min and share their fav song with you. Even if it includes language or values that you don’t like, just be in it with them to connect. Take off your serious Mom or Dad Hat and just pay attention to them. Be playful, make some jokes, try to dance to the music. One of my girls and I just sat down last month and created a Spotify playlist of her fav songs for me to play when we are in the car together. She introduced me to a lot of great songs! And now, she feels like want to know her and we are more connected as a result.
These are just a couple of examples, but you can apply them to any interest in your home. Again, don’t overthink it. Don’t be weird and try to be a teenager. Keep the mood light and fun.
I will never choose to play basketball on my own time, but the connection I achieve with my son is totally worth it.
For kids from hard places, eye contact can be a challenge. For many of our kids, when people look at them it often feels uncomfortable. Maybe they have been yelled at, “Look at me when I am talking to you!” Maybe when adults have looked at them they have felt their disappointment or disgust in their gaze. It is a lot easier just to avoid looking someone in the eye and entering into that kind of intimacy.
When you are working to connect with your teen it is essential that you are able to build trust through eye contact. It may be brief, it may be rare, but asking for their eyes can create a connection and bond.
In order for this to work it is essential that your eyes are warm. Don’t ask for their eyes unless yours are full of love. Practice in the mirror if you have to. But chose to soften your eyes when connecting with your teen so that they will begin to feel safe. The next time you are connecting, or just in the same room talking together, ask for them to look at you. When you are trying to give them a compliment or telling them what they mean to you, ask them to look at you. They may not want to at first and it may take awhile, but keep asking and offering warm eye contact. As they learn to connect with you, their neuro pathways will change in their brain and they will be better able to love and trust others as well.
When you are attempting to connect with your teens, one challenge for yourself this week could be to really observe your body language and what it communicates to your family. When we match our teens it sends a simple message of acceptance and connection that is often subconscious. So, for example, if your teen is sitting on the floor, don’t choose the chair, sit on the floor as well. If your teen has their legs crossed, cross your legs. It is as simple as it sounds, make their body and behavior.
One way that Roy has done this in our home is by hanging out with our teens during their evening cereal runs. Very often in our home 8pm is cereal time. There will be a teen sitting alone, playing on their phone at the dining room table while eating a bowl of cereal. Roy will put down whatever he is doing (inc his phone), grab a deck of cards and go over to the table and sit with them. He deals out a game of solitaire and quietly plays while they are munching. He pays attention to their body language and sits in a similar posture to how they are sitting. When they begin to speak to him, he mirrors their vocal tone, rate and volume. So if they are quiet and mumbling, his response is quiet and mumbled. Because he doesn’t have his phone nearby and is simply playing cards he appears more approachable and 100% of the time, after a few minutes they begin talking. This has been the best way for our teens to begin to share about their day and what they are going through.
Keep Saying Yes
The theory behind this concept is that when we are able to say yes to our kids, they learn to trust us and feel accepted and loved. Many times saying yes makes our life a bit more challenging, but is worth it for the sake of the relationship. Sometimes it can seem like there is no way to say yes, but you can always flip the answer. For example, if your 14yr old asks if he can take the car out for a spin you could say, “Yes! When you are 16.” Or, if you are like Roy, and you say yes and take our kids to the church parking lot and let them practice a bit.
As much as possible in your home you want to be saying yes. This doesn’t mean you risk your own self care as you are constantly tending to their needs, but it does mean that you sacrifice a bit of your comfort to create new neuropathways in their brain. By having someone say yes and meet their needs/wants they begin to have a new view of the world and relationships. They begin to feel that their needs matter and that people love them and want to take care of them. Those messages will go a long way into the kind of relationships they will have as adults.
So when they ask...
Can I have a friend over? Yes, as soon as your chores are done.
Can I have a second serving of ice cream? Yes
Did you want to watch Gilmore Girls with me? Yes
Could we have spaghetti for dinner? Yes, we could do that tomorrow, I am already in the middle of making chicken casserole for dinner tonight.
Would you come with me on a walk? Yes
Can you pick up some more granola bars? Yes, when I go grocery shopping tomorrow.
Could you give me a ride home from the movies? Yes, as long as it is before 11pm as I need to get to bed.
Could you get me some new face wash? Yes
The key to connecting with teens is to not be fooled by their super cool or isolating appearance. They are desperately trying to figure out how to be independent, while at the same time, just like the rest of us, desperately wanting to be loved. And just like you and me, when we feel that someone wants to spend time with us, wants to listen to us, wants to connect… it feels good. So push through your own self esteem issues and get in there. Take a deep breath, shake off your insecurities, jump in and laugh.
For the past eight years Trish has been a foster parent to a group of 7 brothers and sisters, with her best friend, Roy. They are both child therapists, but inviting this family into their home was a whole new world! She wrote / narrated a book about their journey, The Call to Love. It is available on Amazon, Audible & iTunes. She has a Masters in Counseling Psychology, and she is an LCPC in Illinois with a certification in the treatment of child trauma (AAETS). Check out her website at www.trishjonker.com to read her blog, for more information on her book or to schedule parent coaching sessions for yourself.