Yes – even if your child is a toddler or a tween (adolescence goes from 12 – 24 these days) – here are 3 actions steps to start today:
Adolescents can be a magnet for your own unresolved childhood issues. One of my heroes, Dan Siegel, MD says, “When it comes to how our children will be attached to us, having difficult experiences early in life is less important than whether we’ve found a way to make sense of how those experiences have affected us.” By “making sense” he means being able to tell a cohesive story of your childhood from beginning to end and understanding how your childhood influenced who you are today – both the good and the not so good. This may seem theoretical but consider some ways your adolescent might trigger childhood issues –
- Maybe your child tends to be a loner and likes to be with just one or two friends at a time. Maybe you felt unpopular in school. Maybe you end up pushing your child to pursue more relationships and attend more social events because you are projecting on to them how you felt left out as a teen. Maybe your teen starts to doubt himself because you are pushing him to stop listening to his own inner guidance.
- Maybe you didn’t achieve what you wanted to achieve in your career. Maybe your child’s aspirations don’t fulfill your dreams you thought your child would fulfill so you could feel better about your own outcomes. Maybe that pushing causes your child to doubt herself.
- Maybe your parents didn’t give you the love and closeness you longed for as a child. Maybe your adolescent has felt like a best friend and now her brain is telling her to seek closeness and comfort from her friends instead of you. Maybe you hassle your child about this and she starts to feel guilty instead of confident.
Start a practice of self-care or continue the one you have – and stick to it
The adolescent brain’s emotional center is running the show more than ever – in fact, more than at any other time in human development. They learn about who they are by deciding they are different from you. They might thrive on debate – sometimes about things near and dear to your heart like your faith or your most deeply held values. Their brains are often activated and since you have mirror neurons, your brain will likely be more activated now than it has been in a long time. You may experience more stress and more fatigue than ever before. How can you think about taking care of yourself – taking a walk, getting a good night’s sleep – when your kid is telling you that you’re the worst parent on the planet? Self-care is essential to keep you calm and focused, which is what your child need more than anything right now. He needs your adult self. Trust me – you want to be on your best game. You will need adequate sleep, regular exercise, healthy food, nourishing down time and maybe some meditation, yoga or other mindful practice. If you don’t practice self-care, start now. Even a little bit at a time. This is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Pace yourself and care for yourself so you can genuinely support your teen in the way he needs so you will still be connected at the end of the ride.
Gather your tribe
Remember that part about the adolescent’s brain telling her to seek security, soothing and connection from peers instead of parents? This may be a source of loss for you. Most of us were our child’s anchor, the center of her world. Now she is turning away toward others. No need to pretend this isn’t a loss or at least a major transition.
You will also be encountering behaviors that surprise you, confuse you or maybe even offend you. You’ll need people to talk to about all this. Before your child hits his teens, it will help a lot if you have a circle of friends, family, a trusted faith community or whatever “tribe” means to you – it can be just one or two really trusted pals – whoever it is, you will need them. If you have a partner, yes that person will become more important. But you will likely need a little more support than that to navigate these new waters and move through the feelings of loss, confusion and frustration that are likely to arise from time to time. If you have had a strong, positive relationship your child, he will come back to you. But during these teen years his focus is elsewhere and you’ll need some “besties” to buoy you up during the rough times.