One of the greatest challenges faced by midlife women is coping with multiple stressors simultaneously. So when we come up against conflict with our adolescent children we can feel pushed to our limit and become highly triggered. Finding positive strategies to manage our stress and emotional reactivity allows us to foster a stronger, more connected parent-adolescent relationship and reduce friction for the whole family.
The challenges of parenting adolescents
The adolescent years present challenges for parents and teens alike. As parents we are trying to balance concerns for our child’s safety and wellbeing whilst supporting their autonomous decision-making. Our adolescent children are trying to establish independence and navigate complex issues involving identity, relationships, sexuality, and substance use. They may feel that no one understands their feelings and parents may feel frightened and helpless about the choices their teen is making. As a result, the adolescent years can be a period of high stress and conflict in the family.
Common areas of parent-teen conflict include:
- Disputes over curfew, chores, body piercings and tattoos
- Choice of friends
- School and work performance
- Getting rides and driving privileges
- Mobile phone use
- Dating and sexuality
- Clothing, hair styles, and makeup
- Risk taking behaviours such as smoking, drinking, and drug use
- Housework and untidy bedrooms
The impact of stress
Having effective ways of managing conflict can help reduce stress levels for the whole family. When we are stressed out, exhausted, and overwhelmed it is difficult to tap into the patience, responsiveness, and energy required for effective parenting. High conflict situations trigger stress receptors and interrupt the connection between the rational, problem-solving part of the brain and the emotional part of the brain. This inhibits our ability to think clearly and construct thoughtful responses, making us more reactive to our own emotions, such as anger and fear. When our child experiences a disconnect or feels that no one understand them they too have big feelings that trigger stress and reactivity. By practising strategies that help us calm down we are able to restore our rational brain to its coherent state. This allows us to regulate our emotions and approach high conflict situations with more calm and clarity, which in turn enables us to maintain an active and caring connection to our children.
The role of mindfulness in parenting adolescents
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judging it or trying to change it. Jon Kabat-Zinn calls it, “the art of conscious living.” It involves intentionally bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment. This allows us to become aware of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours as they unfold. Incorporating mindfulness techniques into both our personal and parenting life can have significant benefits.
The mindful parenting model involves cultivating moment-to-moment awareness during interactions with our children and has been shown to foster a positive and secure parent-adolescent relationship. When adolescents feel safe and understood, and know they have the freedom to be themselves, they’re less likely to feel triggered or act in anger. Ultimately it’s about recognising our child as their own person, with their own thoughts and feelings, having their own experience. Mindfulness helps us remain attentive to both our child’s experience and our own, and supports us to be intentional about our actions in the moment.
How to put mindful parenting into practice
According to Justin Parent, lead researcher for the 2016 University of Vermont study outlining the benefits of mindful parenting there are three key components to mindful parenting:
1. Notice your own feelings when you’re in conflict with your child
Mindful awareness is the alternative to acting out of habit. Making an effort to notice when we start to feel anxious or annoyed helps us know when we need to take steps to self-regulate and calm down. Identifying our own experience is an integral part of mindful parenting – What feelings are triggered? Are you angry, fearful, ashamed, embarrassed? What bodily sensations can you feel? What thoughts are coming up? Staying present and remaining aware of what is happening allows the rational part of our brain to come back ‘online’ . This enables us to act with awareness and take more mindful action.
2. Learn to pause before responding in anger
When we are able to pause before reacting we are able to exercise better self regulation and respond more thoughtfully. Try using the STOP acronym below. Mindful parenting may also involve teaching our teens how to identify, express, and talk about their feelings, which can promote their own self-regulation abilities
S- STOP. Whenever you notice stress or imbalance, simply pause in awareness.
T- TAKE A BREATH. Simply bring your awareness into the breathing body, actively noticing the sensations of the breath. Also, notice how your mind begins to settle a bit, bringing more clarity. Breath awareness calms the nervous system and the “alarm” centre in the more primitive part of the brain, restoring full brain function.
O- OBSERVE. Just notice how the breath begins to naturally restores balance to the body and mind. Let this be felt. Also, look around and take in your environment.
P- PROCEED. Having calmed down take an action that is more skilful, appropriate and attuned to your child and the situation.
3. Listen carefully to a child’s viewpoint even when disagreeing with it
Directing our full attention to our child conveys that they are truly seen, heard and respected. It allows us to understand our child’s perspective and can help preserve the parent-child relationship. Listening carefully allows us to be more attuned and sensitive to our children and what they have to say. This reinforces the message that you’re there for them and willing to make time for your relationship and have a shared experience. It also models the importance of respecting the views of others, even if we don’t agree, and demonstrates how to manage difficult conversations and situations.
Remaining centred and present during times of conflict with our teens can be hugely challenging. It’s easy to become emotionally hijacked and reactive and it’s important to be patient with ourselves as we learn to implement these new skills. Try to have self-compassion as you work toward accepting that this moment is challenging. Mindful parenting allows us to model important life skills that teach our adolescents healthy ways to regulate their emotions and help socialise appropriate behaviour. Importantly it also helps us develop a positive and secure relationship with our children, fostering a positive family environment that supports the wellbeing of all members of the family.
Michelle Seelig is a Midlife Transition Counsellor and an experienced Mindfulness Educator. If you are interested in learning more about mindful parenting or in addressing your own stress or anxiety, book a complimentary Discovery Call over here to discuss your unique needs.
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