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comforting your teen

Comforting Part 5: Comforting Your Teen Series Conclusion

Comforting your teen series Part 5

I promise: your teens want to talk to you. They want to share their emotions, feelings, and talk about their deeper thoughts with you. It may not always seem that way, and maybe they are unsure of doing it too. But I see it firsthand over and over again: once barriers are broken down, teens find a sense of relief in opening up to their parents.

We all remember the times when we finally talked about something that’s been troubling us and felt better afterwards. Parents are the closest person to their child. The parent/child bond is a special one, whether biological or not.

So how do we get to a place where our teen is openly sharing and we can be there to comfort them? Comforting your kid means connecting with them. Connection and comfort go hand in hand. 

Ideally, this is something we foster over the years with quality time spent together. One great way to cultivate closeness and connection is through rituals and traditions. It’s a shared experience for you and your kids–something you all can count on. A time that feels secure and consistent. Finding times to laugh, dance, and partake in fun activities together. Showing interest in their interests. And of course, showing your love for them through affection.

As our kids get older, they have more responsibilities. We can get stuck in the “to-do’s” of life, both theirs and ours. Life gets busy. We find ourselves tending to more of what needs to get done and less time connecting. One of our jobs as parents is to keep our teens on task, helping them get done all they need to get done, and making sure they are successful. In fact, when I ask teens what percentage of interaction with their parents is positive, most say around 30%. When I ask them what makes up the negative 70%, it’s the “to-do’s” of life.  “Did you do this?” “Why didn’t you complete that?” “You need to…”

The fun and the connection can get lost. We end up being a parent more than a mom or dad. Let me explain.

Being a parent is hard!  We are constantly straddling what I call the mom/ dad role and the parent role. I know I love being a mom and at times dread being a parent. I think connection is easy when it’s the mom role. But the parent role is like walking a tightrope. I find myself asking, how can I parent and stay connected to them? It’s difficult!  When I think of parenting, I think of keeping them on track, homework, consequences, and lecturing.  I want to run the other way. And I’m pretty sure my kids want to run too–either isolate in their rooms or at least turn their ears off.

Being truly conscious of when we are in these roles is key. In a perfect world, we could be in the mom/dad role most of the time and less in the parent role. That would make connection and openness so much easier, wouldn’t it?

How do we make sure we are cultivating more mom/dad time than parent time?  It has to be a conscious effort. Find ways you can make space for those moments every day. And I mean every day.

When I look back at the years spent with my older kids, those are the times of connection. That is when they could relax, open up, and they felt my love the most. Those are the times that built the foundation for the close relationship I have with them today. The times when I had to move into the parent role often lead us to disconnection.

If you’ve never had that open relationship with your kid and talked about feelings and emotions, it is never too late to cultivate a closer relationship. One where you can comfort them in their difficult moments. And, oh how meaningful that relationship can be for both of you!

Let them know this is something you want in your relationship with them.  Figure it out together. You never know, maybe they have been thinking the same thing. (They probably have!)

Talk about the fears you have in trying to change your relationship with them. Don’t let your fear get in the way of connecting with your kids. When we carry fear, it can look like many things to the other person.  Fear can translate into avoidance, anger, and can be misinterpreted by the other person as not caring.  Examine your own fears and ask them about theirs. You might be surprised how talking openly can increase closeness, connection, and the ability to be there to comfort your teens.

Remember what you did when they scraped their knee. It will always apply no matter how old they are. Listen, comfort, reassure.

Please read the other blogs this series on Comforting your Teen:


communicating with teens

Comforting Part 4: Trust Me, Your Kids WANT to Talk About Mental Health

Comforting your teen series Part 4

Families talk about a lot of things, but mental health usually isn’t one of them. Historically, mental health has been a taboo, uncomfortable topic in many families. Whether generational, cultural, racial, or gender-based, many messages we have historically received about mental health tell us we shouldn’t share.  People have always struggled with their mental health; it’s just largely been done in silence.

Millennials and the GenZ generation are more aware and open about their mental health as compared to previous generations. This is obviously a good thing and shows we are making progress.  But because Millennials and GenZ’s are more open to talk while their parents may not be (through no fault of their own) it can create an uncomfortable situation and another obstacle stopping teens from opening up. I see this often in my office. While they’re open to talking, teens sense their parent’s hesitancy, discomfort, and in some cases, fear.  We all know that feeling when we perceive someone is uncomfortable–we tend to go the other direction.  Teens do the same thing, pulling back from sharing with their parents.  This can create more fear for a teen.  They want the security of connection with their parents, they need it. Without it, teens have to maneuver through their difficulty alone.  Without the reassurance from their parents that they are ok, they may second guess themselves and wonder if there is something wrong with them because they are struggling. This can often times lead them to feeling shame for struggling, causing them to be more secretive and hide that they aren’t doing well.  Teens are then left to deal on their own.  Many times, a crisis has to occur before parents are aware of what’s going on.

Conversations about mental health need to be ongoing in our homes.  When it’s ongoing, there isn’t as much discomfort talking about difficult topics, struggles, and how we feel about things. It becomes a natural topic of discussion.  It’s hard enough for teens to deal with everything; we don’t want them to do it alone. And we definitely don’t want them to feel shame for struggling.

Keeping mental health a regular part of the conversation means they can be transparent with you and reach out  for help because they’ll know they can. The safety of connection is present making it easier to face life’s challenges.

Please read the other blogs this series on Comforting your Teen:


comforting your teen communication

Comforting Part 3: The Importance of Biting Your Tongue

Comforting your teen series Part 3

A common roadblock that keeps kids from confiding in their parents is the “I’ll solve it” scenario. Teens want to be heard and seen just like us. They don’t want someone telling them what to do about their sadness.  They want to be listened to and comforted.

I see this all the time with parents and teens. I’m a parent too, so I get it.  We want our kids to feel better. We suffer when we see them in distress so we try to solve the problem as fast as we can. Not only to stop their suffering but to stop our own pain from watching them suffer. Our gut reaction is to tell them what to do to fix the situation, which isn’t very comforting and leads to disconnection rather than connection which is why they came to you in the first place. We skip over their feelings and try to solve them. This can be very invalidating and can leave them feeling even more overwhelmed with a list of todos.  “Why don’t you just…”, “you need to… .“  Ouch. Seems very different from the comforting playground scenario when your little one scrapes their knee. In these moments, it’s best to bite your tongue and listen. To be clear, I’m not saying we need to treat them like we did when they were little. It’s really just the pattern of interaction that needs to be the same.  Listen, comfort, reassure… and then maybe later help them solve it… if they invite us to.

Talk with your kids about their struggles, life’s difficulties, and mental health. It helps them normalize their experience and struggles. Talking with them fosters a sense of constant safety, reducing their sense of aloneness and shame. It cultivates closeness and healthy attachment. It can also help them make sense of their feelings and experiences – creating a state of congruence between emotions and thoughts, which will help reduce stress. It allows for flexibility in their daily lives, inviting in how they feel and moving through the changes in their emotional states.

When they can see they can share their messiness with you, and you can handle it and comfort them, they feel safe to bring it to you again.

Please read the other blogs this series on Comforting your Teen:


comforting your teen empathy

Comforting Part 2: How Empathy Looks as Your Kids Grow Up

Comforting your teen series Part 2

Think about when your kids were little and they scraped their knee. Or when someone hurt their feelings on the playground and they were filled with sadness. Their first reaction was to call out or run to you.  You sat with them, listened, and reassured them it would all be ok.  Your empathetic reaction, soothing voice, and physical touch made them feel they could go on, maybe even run back over to the playground and try again.  Your presence in the midst of their sadness helped them feel comforted, safe, and that they could make it through their difficult moments and hard feelings.

It’s easy to know something is wrong with our kids when they’re little. They are so much more transparent in how they are feeling and what they need. And as parenting goes, knowing what to do for our little one’s scraped knee is easy to figure out. As they get older, the issues they face can get more complex. Issues may arise that we don’t know how to maneuver through ourselves. We can feel unsure of how to handle situations and how to guide them. It can create fear in our ability to parent them. This is normal and can be overcome.

Over the years, our kids end up reaching for us less and less because they begin to mature and start figuring things out on their own.  But that doesn’t mean they still don’t need us to be there in those difficult moments for comfort.  I think there’s an unfounded belief that teens only want their friends and don’t want to share their deep feelings and troubles with their parents.  From where I sit in my office with teens, that’s just not true. I hear comments like, “Oh we don’t talk about stuff like this at home” or “we talk about a lot of things but emotions and how we feel isn’t one of them” or “I wish I could feel comfortable talking about this stuff with my parents”.  I see this over and over again. Teens and young adults need and want this open door to talking about the hard stuff. They want the closeness and connection that talking about deeper feelings brings.

Once I help teens break down the walls that prevent them from confiding in a parent, I see a sense of relief.  They describe feeling lighter. They feel less alone in dealing with their stuff.  When teens and young adults know they can go there with their parents and talk about their difficult feelings and find comfort, they can face their challenges with so much more ease.

Please read the other blogs this series on Comforting your Teen:


comforting teens therapy boulder

Comforting Part 1: Breaking Down Barriers

Comforting your teen series Part 1

I spend my days being with people in their emotional world. I help them process and express how they are feeling, sit with their own emotions, and at times, tolerate the uncomfortableness that emotions can cause for us all.

I help make sense of what they’re feeling and help them see how their feelings and emotions drive their thoughts and actions. I’m able to do this for two reasons. One, they allow me to, which is an amazing privilege. And two, because I provide a safe space. I’m not going to tell them they’re wrong for how they’re feeling. I don’t carry judgement for what they feel. I am just listening.

Because my relationship with them is somewhat one-sided, I use my own emotions to help guide my time with my clients. I express how I’m feeling about them in an empathetic way, but that is where it stops.  I don’t carry along a history of injuries from my relationship with them, making our interaction a complex dynamic of debate, blame, and defensiveness. Instead, they feel seen, heard, and validated in their own experience. And they don’t need to care for my emotions while trying to figure out their own.   It truly is an open space for a client to be the center of attention to muddle through their own feelings with someone more or less holding their hand.

As a parent, you have a more difficult job than me in comforting your teen.   You have the history of the relationship that can get in the way, a pattern of interaction that ensues during stressful moments, and your own feelings to maneuver through. However, you comforting your teen can be much more powerful than me comforting them.

Over the next few posts in the Comforting Your Teen Series, I’m going to talk about different ways you can connect with your teen and help create a safe space for them to be heard.

Please read the other blogs this series on Comforting your Teen: