Relationships are hard, especially when you’re a teenager. As a parent, it’s easy to forget that growing up is a stressful process. Fights with friends, planning for college, involvement in sports, and developing a personal identity can lead to some big breakdowns. When this happens, it can be hard to know how to stop overreacting in a relationship and start interacting.
The first step is to identify the problem. Ask yourself: “Am I overreacting in a relationship? Do I empower her to problem solve on her own? Do I take her issues personally?” If you struggle with this, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Reacting and overreacting is part of being human. Fortunately, you can improve. Here are 3 ways to interact, not react:
How to Stop Overreacting in a Relationship and Start Interacting
1. Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood
It sounds simple, but the first step to stop overreacting is to assume you don’t fully understand the problem. That way, you’ll actually listen to what your teen is saying and seek to understand. Here are some things to consider as you seek to understand the problem:
- Be empathetic & see it from her point of view. Put yourself in her shoes; have you ever struggled with fear of not being accepted, loss of a friendship, sadness or loneliness, etc.?
- Listen more, talk less. It’s hard when others just keep telling you what you should have done, get frustrated, or act like it’s a dumb problem. This usually makes the problem worse. Remember that this is not about you.
- Avoid Countertransference. Countertransference is a fancy word that means sometimes your own problems will creep into your interactions. This means if you are struggling at work with feeling incompetent, when your child is struggling and you feel the same way, your emotions from work may come out in this situation. Be mindful of not transferring these feelings into your child’s problems.
- Emphasize Empowerment. It is easy to interrupt when you have experienced something similar and think you have the answer. These interactions are not about how you handled the situation, they are about letting your teen figure it out on her own, to become a more successful person.
2. Empower & Encourage But Don’t Solve
Studies show that children grow up to be successful adults when they have had opportunities to be capable and handle a situation successfully with minimal help. Here are some ways you can help your teenager feel capable and able to tackle her own problems.
- Ask for her ideas. Start by asking, “What do YOU think would work?” Then help her brainstorm possible solutions.
- Help her plan her next steps. After she has brainstormed what she will do, help her map it out. See what she can do to implement her own plan.
- Refrain from “fixing” everything even if you see an easy solution. If she asks for help, give limited advice. This is her moment to shine!
Even though it may feel like you are pushing your child away, encouraging your child’s independence will only make you closer.
3. Be Supportive
Even though you should empower your teen, it is still important to be involved in her life.
- Ask what she needs, “What part of your plan can I help with?” This will help you to be involved, but not be the manager of this endeavor.
- Check in throughout the process and see how it’s going.
- Be sure to praise when she has done things she said she would, even if it didn’t work out.
- Help with additional brainstorming if necessary, but only if she asks you to!
Effective Strategies for Calming Your Emotions
Most of the strategies above focus on your specific interactions with your teen. However, you can also improve your interaction by looking inward and working on yourself.
- Make sure you are aware of your own motives. Every parent wants their child to succeed, but parents who just “take over” and “fix” things are often fueled by fear instead of love. What’s your motivation? Is it to have the situation over with, with minimal pain? Is it for your benefit, to feel like a great parent?
- Take care of yourself so you can actually be helpful. If you are run down by your own issues, see a therapist and address it. You cannot support your children if you aren’t solving your own problems. When you are on an airplane, they tell you to put the oxygen on yourself first, before your child. The same is true in treatment. You need your own “emotional oxygen” flowing before you can help your child.
Stay aware of your motivation and avoid overreacting and your child will always appreciate and value your support.
This is a lot of information to take in. Don’t try to make drastic changes all at once. Instead, choose one skill you would like to improve and focus on it for a couple of weeks. Looking back at past issues in your child’s life, how well are you doing interacting versus reacting? Most parents have room for improvement, including myself! It’s so much harder when it’s your own children!
By Kristen Archer, Admissions Counselor at New Haven Residential Treatment Center