by Diana Simeon
Does this after-school conversation sound familiar?
Hi Honey . . .
Hi Mom (or Dad) . . .
Do you have homework?
If so, it may be time for a different approach. “Many teenagers are upset by the fact that when they come home from school, the first thing their parents do is ask about homework or cleaning their room or doing the dishes and so on. They then feel that this is all the relationship is about,” explains Cleveland-area psychologist Dr. Trysa Shulman.
Rather, says Shulman, take the time to connect with your teenager before getting down to after-school business. “That first time you interact with your teenager is a really sensitive time and can be used just to connect,” she explains. “How are you doing? How was your day? Tell them about your day. Just check in and be present with each other. Have a snack. Let them unwind. And connect for however long it takes to actually connect.”
Then, and only then, go ahead and talk about homework or tonight’s piano lesson or next week’s exam or whatever else, says Shulman, noting that those conversations will be easier if you’ve allowed for this process. “Of course, there are things that have to be discussed and things that have to be checked in about, but in the context of a strong relationship, those things become less stressful.”
Notes Shulman: “In general, a good rule of thumb is, if the majority of interactions with the teenager are about a parent asking them to do something, correcting mistakes, or criticizing them, the parent needs to step back and figure out how to change that balance so there are plenty of interactions that are just about connecting.”
And if you’re stressed by a schedule that doesn’t allow for this all-important activity with your teenagers, then perhaps it’s time to reassess. “If you have trouble keeping up with all the things they’re doing or if they don’t have time to just relax, then they may be over-scheduled,” says Shulman. “It’s okay to let up on some of those things. The health of your relationship is more valuable than whatever you may have to give up.”