Ep. 64: A Way Through the Toughest Conversations
Dr. Amy Alamar, author of The Parenting Project and Parenting for the Genius, takes insight from the educational sphere and applies it to practical parenting techniques to get through to your teen. Whether you have a teen that shuts down, or one that over-shares, Dr. Alamar has suggestions for exactly what to say when the tough conversations get going!
Full Show Notes
Do you notice your teen shutting down and pushing you out? As teens strive to become individuals, they start to communicate less and less with parents. This is a common ‘side effect’ of growing up, but it isn’t all bad. Making decisions independently is a critical skill all teenagers need to learn. Although, if parents struggle to keep a close relationship with their teens, there can be more conflict and difficulty when it comes to teaching life lessons.
Amy Alamar, author of The Parenting Project: Build Extraordinary Relationships With Your Kids Through Daily Conversation, believes the best way to know your child is through conversation. As an experienced teacher and researcher, Amy uses academic research and psychological concepts to break down the most effective ways to communicate with teens. Her methods involve daily techniques you can use to build extraordinary relationships through conversation. Even when it comes to the most trying topics!
In this episode of the podcast, we cover everything from managing our reactions to word-for-word scripts for the toughest situations. Here are some of the major takeaways.
Recognize Your Reactions
Certain types of conversation make us act and react differently, we can’t help it. And sometimes our apparent shock or frustration can cause a teen to back out of the dialogue. As parents, if we’re discussing something that makes us afraid, like our teen driving for the first time, our emotions are heightened. We have a totally different energy than if we were talking to our teens about intimacy, or being a self-advocate.
Amy advises that we walk our teens through our own emotions so they aren’t put off by a genuine reaction. Simply explaining, “I’m not judging you, I’m just surprised,” can make a world of difference. It might take a minute to calm down, but it’s important to let your teen know that you want to have a fair conversation without reactions speaking louder than reason. We also discuss the value of finding the right tone and setting, even when we’re upset and can’t keep up a solid ‘poker face.’
Let Your Child Speak
Amy shares how staying quiet and letting your child speak can be the key to having meaningful conversation. For example, asking open ended questions like, “how did you feel about that?” can inspire a teen to be more open. Amy also suggests we point out situations in TV shows and movies to facilitate dialogue about touchy topics like drug use or peer pressure. It feels non-confrontational and lets your teen speak their mind freely, as it’s about a fictional scenario.
Plus, we outline the difference between whole-family and one-on-one conversations, as well as how to let our children bring up their thoughts about the future, so we don’t make assumptions about their path. Above all else, Amy highlights how to be on your teen’s team, always.
Navigate Risks and Limits
“We’re not their friends, we’re they’re parents.” This impactful statement from Amy regards setting expectations and holding our teens to them. We have to be bold about setting limits, but at the same time, we must recognize that it’s the purpose of a teenager to push limits, take risks, and try new things. So, our job is less about being strict, and more about talking our teens through their decision making and coming up with appropriate natural consequences when they make certain choices.
In this episode, Amy coaches parents how to teach their teens about making decisions, learning from mistakes, identifying parents’ concerns, and forming plans to address those concerns.
Master Difficult Conversations
There are so many tricky conversations that Amy has methods for mastering. If your child has a friend that you don’t like, Amy knows just how to handle it. She mentions that one of the worst things you can do is say, “You can’t be friends with that person,” or judge that person, because the minute you judge them, your child will start to shut down. Instead, she recommends ways to influence our teen’s decision making.
She has tips for talking about the most dreaded topic of all too: teenage sex. Some of her talking points include the importance of intimacy, being present, and having consent for an enjoyable experience. Rather than encourage or forbid sex, her approach focuses on how to have the best relationship, and what it takes to achieve that.
We even go into detail about what to say when someone breaks your child’s trust, elaborating on empathy and apologies. This episode is packed with useful suggestions to conquer all sorts of challenging discussions you’ll have with your teens!
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Word-for-word examples of WHAT to say to your teen
1. To open a conversation about your teen going to a party:
“I’m a little worried you might drink, I’m a little worried you might hop off into the wrong car with somebody who’s drinking, I’m a little worried about who you’ll go to if you have a problem–can we talk about what you might do or what might happen?”
2. When your teen is getting ready to head out to a party you’re not so sure about:
3. Get a conversation going about decision making after a bad choice by your teen:
4. If a family conversation starts to get combative between siblings:
5. When you’re watching TV or a movie with your teen and something questionable happens:
6. When your TV/movie discussion seems to be ramping up in awkwardness:
7. When your teen is heading out with a new friend you don’t know:
8. Your teen is resistant to letting you meet their new friend(s):
9. A disagreement has come to an impasse–try to clear it with:
10. Draw out a teen that’s shutting down mid conversation:
11. To make sure your teen knows you’re not judging them:
12. Give your teen an ‘out’ in the tough and/or awkward parenting conversations:
13. If your teen walks off from a conversation and slams the door, restart the conversation later with:
14. When your teen puts themselves down:
15. Let the teen bring up college:
16. Your teen expresses a desire to not go to college, dig deeper to understand where it’s coming from:
17. If your teen is hesitant about picking a college to attend:
About Amy Alamar
Dr. Amy Alamar is a researcher, speaker, and author. Her first book Parenting for the Genius was released in 2014 and applied scientifically proven educational practices to parenting. Her second book The Parenting Project, continued to educate parents, this time emphasizing daily communication to influence kids and teens.
Dr. Alamar has served as the Schools Program Director for Challenge Success at Stanford University, was a guest of Michelle Obama at the White House for a conversation about kids’ health in 2016, and writes for Babble and the Psychology blog, Hey Sigmund.
A San Francisco resident, Amy is married with 3 kids. She stays busy with her writing, as a speaker, and learning from her kids daily.