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  • Writer's pictureYvette Morton

Want A Stronger Connection With Your Young Adult? 4 Communication Tips To Help

Updated: Jun 4, 2023

Girl thinking about her life and direction

We’ve all been there; a heated conversation between parents and teens, where everyone is frustrated and doesn’t feel heard, unsolicited advice is shared, and someone feels attacked or judged rather than understood. I can relate to this both as a parent raising three young adult children and looking back to my own adolescent years with my parents. Communication is hard, and the late teen and early adult years come with additional challenges as young people need to exert their autonomy away from their parents to feel empowered and begin making their own decisions.

As high school students graduate and move into increasingly independent lives away from home, you may notice your teen pushing away even more, or experiencing a mix of emotions that they aren’t sure how to process or communicate. Though well meaning, it’s natural for parents to want to step in with opinions, information, and advice. When this is met with frustration or a complete shut-down, we may throw our hands up, unsure of how to connect on a deeper level.

Fortunately, there are some skills and techniques that can help! Though most often used within therapeutic and coaching settings to support behavior change, Motivational Interviewing (MI) strategies can offer parents a framework for improved communication with their teen and young adult children. This guiding style emphasizes active listening strategies and avoids the common pitfalls of telling a teen what to do, or offering unsolicited advice.

Utilizing these strategies with your young adult can help you move into a more collaborative relationship that empowers them to move confidently into adulthood, voicing their thoughts and opinions, and making independent decisions within an atmosphere of acceptance and compassion. This style can reinforce the likelihood that your child will feel safe coming to you when they do need your wisdom and suggestions, and encourages a sense of self-efficacy; believing in their capabilities and having the motivation to push through challenges.

1) Use Open Ended Questions:

One of the biggest challenges when trying to open the door to meaningful communication is asking questions that help you move past “yes” and “no” responses. How often has your teen accused you of “interrogating” them when you ask simple questions such as “did you have a good day?”, “Do you have any homework?”, “Did you finish your chores?” I have! Practice the art of using “open ended” questions to engage a little deeper, support your understanding of your child, and encourage problem solving and independence. Be forewarned, this is a practice! Don’t be hard on yourself if it doesn’t go as smoothly as you hope for. The more you become aware of “open” vs “closed” questions the easier it will become.

Here are a few powerful questions that can help start a conversation with your teen as they begin the transition into post high school life.

Open ended question starters

Generally, questions that start with "What" or "How" can help you stay away from a simple yes/no answer. Here are some additional thought provoking questions you can try.

2) Encourage Self Awareness and Growth through Affirmations

Practice using genuine and meaningful affirmations to acknowledge your teen/young adult’s strengths, growth, and the internal and external resources they may have relied upon to solve a problem or overcome a challenge. Affirmations can build your teen's self-awareness and belief in their knowledge and abilities, such as:

  • You really care about........

  • You've put a lot of thought into.........

  • That was a challenging situation. You showed a lot of......... (affirming character trait).

  • You worked hard on that.........

  • I bet that was hard to share with me. Thank you for being honest.

  • You are learning that......

  • You tapped into............ to solve that problem (affirming character strength).

3) Share Reflective Statements

Another way that you can improve communication and show your teen that you are really listening to them is to offer a short reflective statement or summary of what they have shared with you. This could come in the form of a “hypothesis” or educated guess about something they are struggling with, and helps them reflect on what they have said to you. This also helps you check for understanding.

  • Part of you realizes that......

  • It seems like.......

  • It feels like........

  • You're realizing........

  • You're willing to........

  • You're wondering if.......

  • You're frustrated about........and it sounds like you plan to.......

4) Ask Before Sharing Advice/Solutions

Lastly, it is natural for parents to want to step in and offer solutions to our children’s challenges, but this can be especially frustrating for the emerging adult who is trying to establish their autonomy and find solutions to their own problems. Once again, seeing ourselves as “guides” to our children as they move into this next life chapter can benefit not only their growing sense of self efficacy, but your overall parent/child communication and relationship.

  • Resist the urge to tell them what to do, or to immediately share your opinion.

  • Listen, using open ended questions, affirmations and reflections to help them process first.

  • If they they seem stuck or there is something you would like to share, it is ok to ask if they would like to hear it first. Sometimes your child may say no, and that is ok too.

You've created an invaluable space for your child to be vulnerable and to process their thoughts and ideas in a safe and supportive environment. Let them know that you are there if/when they would like support or ideas, and have confidence that they will take you up on that offer when they are ready.

Yvette Morton Coaching

Hi, I'm Yvette! As a former school psychologist and National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, I bring years of experience working with adolescents and young adults, and proven strategies to support learning and growth to guide my clients. I help them get clear about their strengths, interests and goals. They will create a plan of action, practice new habits, learn from setbacks and successes and develop a growth mindset. They will move confidently into their adult lives with habits and strategies to support their success!

Yvette Morton Ed.S, MA, NBC-HWC

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