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How To Be A Safe Place For Your Teen To Open Up And Talk To You

If your tween or teen is hiding things from you, shutting down when you ask them questions — this message is for you. Now, let’s dive in:

Welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. If some days you doubt yourself and you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’ve ugly cried alone in your bedroom because you felt like you’re failing. Well, I just want to let you know you are not alone and you have come to the right place.

Raising tweens and teens in today’s world is not easy, and I am on a mission to equip you to love well and raise emotionally healthy tweens and teens that thrive. I believe that moms are heroes, and we have the power to transform our family and to impact future generations. If you are looking for answers, encouragement, and becoming more of the mom and woman you want to be, welcome. I am Sheryl Gould, and I am so glad that you are here. 

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Episode 11 Transcribed For You!

Welcome to the show today! I’m so happy that you’re here and tuning in. We’re going to talking about how to become a safe place for your tween or teen to open up and talk to you. This is one of the most important things that we can do — it will have the power to impact your relationship with your kid. I’ve experienced this in my own life and have worked with moms for over twelve years.

When you put what I’m going to share today, you will see shifts in all those other areas. So we’re going to be talking about that.

One of my favorite quotes is: “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Our kids really don’t care, especially at this age, how much we know. We forget that all these years we’ve been teaching.

Now we’re moving into more of a mentorship with them when they hit their teens. Often, when we give them advice or try to fix things or jump in, it doesn’t work. Why? Because they are in this process becoming more independent. They’re moving apart from us because they try to figure out who they are apart from us.

It’s this gradual letting go because for them to become independent, mature, and resilient — they need to make some mistakes to learn.

I wish it weren’t that way. As a mom, it causes great anxiety to let go. I know, I’ve been there. My kids are older now. My youngest is 21. I still, to this day, struggle with letting go, but it’s a slow process. And it’s a healthy process to be doing this. Our kids learn through making mistakes, and they learn problem-solving skills.

I’m going to share a little bit about how we can help, mentor, and coach them around that, rather than just jumping in and giving them advice. This can shut them down.

Those of you reading have experienced this where all of a sudden your kid shares, maybe something they’re struggling with, and then you tell them what they might do. Then it shuts the conversation down immediately.

Then you’re like…what just happened? They’re not listening to me.

It is so important to remember that’s not what we know. It’s how we make our kids feel. If they feel safe with us, we are going to be a non-judgmental presence. When they share a struggle or challenge, we’re not going to come in and quickly criticize or tell them that they did it wrong.

Now I want you to think about when our kids came into the world. It was so much easier in many ways, even though it’s a huge shock when I had my first. But they go into the world, and they have basic needs. They need to be fed, feel safe, and secure. If kids don’t get that, it impacts them. They’re realizing today that with all the brain studies and research being done if they don’t get those basic needs met, it affects them in the future.

But I want you to know it’s never too late. Our tweens and teens have specific needs, and if we meet these needs, it can change the dynamics in our home. And we have so much power. That’s why it’s Moms of Tweens and Teens.

I love the dads that show up, but it’s Moms and Tweens and Teens because I think we underestimate the power of that. We are learning these things and growing ourselves — it’s less about changing or fixing our kids. It’s more about what and how we communicate.

So when you begin to practice what I’m going to share with you, I know that you’re going to see positive changes in your relationship with your kids. We want to create an environment in our relationship with our kids to feel safe to connect with us. Because if we don’t feel safe, we don’t connect.

I want you to think about somebody in your life that you don’t connect with because you felt criticized or judged. Are you going to share your heart with that person?

The answer is: No.

It’s the same with our kids — we’re going to self-protect because we don’t want to get that criticism. So I want to jump in and share three foundational parenting principles. And these are like laying a foundation for your relationship that is strong and sturdy. Again, if you can practice these three things, you’re going to see dramatic shifts.

So British psychologist, John Bowlby, did extensive research with children, especially children that were wounded and had behavioral issues. He studied the bonds that they had with their parents — this is where the Attachment Theory came from. Many of you are familiar with that, and some of you are not.

Simply put, Attachment Theory is a deep emotional bond that forms between two people when they feel safe and secure.

Then there’s a wonderful book called, The Power of Showing Up by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. They talk about the four assets, but I’m going to share the three S’s.

So let me just go through those and explain what they are. So the three S’s are: Safe, Seen, and Soothed. Our kids need these basic needs met. I want you moms to know because I experienced this in my own life through my own mistakes, that I did not do this with my oldest when she was a tween.

I began to learn and see these significant shifts in our relationship happen. Safe means that your kid feels safe to be accepted. They feel accepted for who they are, warts and all. And even at their worst, they feel like we are for them. And what they’re saying to themselves, even though they may not be aware of it, is, “Wow, I’m not going to be judged here. I’m not going to be criticized here. I’m safe. My parents accept me even when I make mistakes.”

Now, I want you to know; this isn’t easy to do.

So if you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I am failing in this area.” No, no, no. If we do this 40% of the time, we are doing a great job. Just know we need to start practicing these things. These take practice, and we’re not always going to do it perfectly. Sometimes our kids are going to make a big mistake, and we’re going to be mad. We’re probably going to fall into that criticizing mode, but we can always catch ourselves becoming more self-aware. So when we are doing that — we can shift.

We want to be that non-judgmental presence. I’m going to explain how we can do this. Okay, the scene is when our kids feel heard when we’re listening, and I’m going to talk about how we can do that they feel understood. And they’re like, “Wow, I make sense. They get me, and my parents care about what I’m feeling and thinking, even if they disagree.”

They want to know me, and they get it — they want to hear me.

So, when you feel seen by somebody, it’s when you’re nodding your head, and you’re like, “Yes, thank you.” You’re articulating exactly what I’m feeling, and in turn, it feels so comforting when that happens. And soothed. This can be physical comfort. But many of you are like, well, that’s not my kids love language. When I hug him, they don’t really want to hug him, which is all normal. Soothing can be physical comfort, but it’s also listening.

It’s listening to their feelings — holding space for them when they’re upset. It’s not minimizing or dismissing. We don’t even realize how often we can do this, like, “don’t be upset” here. We try to jump in and make them feel better. Why? Because, of course, we love them. And we don’t want them to be upset. It’s also because it’s uncomfortable to see your kid hurting or upset. When they’re angry, we don’t like having a conflict.

We don’t like them pushing back. We don’t want them being mad because it creates conflict, and I have yet to meet anybody that enjoys fighting.

So what do we do — we want to shut it down. In the process, we end up shutting down our kid’s feelings. This is very counterintuitive — why? Because soothing comes through expression. When we express, we feel better. It brings the anxiety levels down; you get out of the depression.

Now, I know some of our kids have clinical depression, and that’s not what I’m talking about.

But we need to talk about how we’re feeling. The more we can do that, the more you will see a shift in your kid’s behavior. I want you to think about somebody in your own life, where you would call them if you’re going through a difficult time, like your go-to-girl. And I want you to think about why you feel safe with them. They’re not going to judge you; they’re not trying to fix or tell you what to do. Instead, they’re going to hold that space for you.

They feel safe. When you can express what you’re struggling with, you end up feeling so much better. And it’s the same thing with our kids. So how do we do this?

I’m going to share five essential keys:

1. Be present and show up.

This sounds like duh; this is so basic. We hear all the mindfulness stuff. But you know what, it’s powerful, especially when our kids live in this culture, where they’re on social media so much.

They’re looking down at their phones. And for us to just be with them, being present in the same room, and not having to do but just to be. This is eye contact and stopping what we’re doing. We have to remind ourselves that this time is fleeting.

We will never regret putting down our phone, or whatever it is — even if it’s 10 minutes to just listen to our kids.

Our kids pick the darnedest times to talk. It always seems like when we’re absolutely exhausted, not in the mood, or when we have a million things to do — when they want to talk, like at 11 pm.

I don’t think you know, their whole serotonin level doesn’t start to go down until midnight, and it doesn’t begin to go up until 9 am. So we need to have some grace around that. Once I heard that I’m like, “Oh, yeah, no wonder they have such a hard time going to bed. No wonder they have a hard time getting up in the morning.” That makes sense. So we need to lean in. We need to be aware and take advantage of that.


2. Become aware of your feelings and your tween or teens’ emotions.

So in the three-day parent training, I gave in the workbook, I gave a whole feeling sheet. What’s cool is you can use that feeling sheet with your kids. You can use it at the dinner table and set aside time to make time for that meal. I know many of us with COVID-19 have been doing that more because we’re not running here and there. So you can find it on the Internet and print it out. Now, your kid might not be so open with that, and that’s okay. You don’t want to force it, but start noticing and recognizing your feelings.

When my daughter was a tween, she expressed a lot of anger. I had no idea I was angry. I was so not in touch with my emotions. So what happened? When she started expressing her feelings and her anger, I wanted to shut it down because I was not in touch with my own. So I was making at that time, anger was a bad emotion. And you just better not, you know, act out, you better not act out, be disrespectful, all of those things. And, of course, we want our kids to be respectful.

That’s so important to teach them that, but they don’t know how to express anger responsibly yet. And the only way we can teach our kids how to express anger responsibly is by learning ourselves.

So we need to get comfortable and start noticing our feelings. Because when we do, and we can label them, we’re going to be able to, you know, sadness, like a lot of times, we want to stuff that because it’s uncomfortable. When our kids are sad, we want to put a blanket on that and cover it up because it’s painful for us. But the more that we can get comfortable with emotions, the better able we’re going to be able to sit in the discomfort of our own kid’s feelings.


3. Don’t put their emotions in categories.

We tend to put their feelings in categories, so happy and excited are good emotions. Sad and anger are bad emotions. When I started working with moms, I found it challenging for them to say they’re angry. They would instead use the word frustrated because we look at anger as out of control, which I’m going to get into. But I want you to know and emotions are the hurt of connection.

And when we can connect around what we’re feeling and lean in — we have empathy. It’s amazing the connection that sparks when my heart connects with your heart on a feelings level. It’s not about the story and everything that’s happening around us. We tend to get into this right or wrong, like maybe our kids late for curfew, and you get into an argument about it.

But if we can say, “You know when you came home late, you didn’t text me. And I was scared. I was wondering if you were safe.” That’s going to help our kids understand more than just making it about being late and how they were wrong. Be able to share our hearts with them, and how we felt — it’s going to be more connecting. So feelings are not right or wrong. They are information.

When pain is minimized, dismissed, or denied, it can’t heal. Sometimes some of you have been grieving a lot of losses. If we minimize it or ignore it and don’t work through that, it’s always underneath the surface. So feelings need to be expressed to be worked through. If we avoid or don’t accept them, they can become more intense. They actually lead to depression, anxiety, and acting out behaviors. So that’s why it’s so important to help our kids to get their feelings out.

It’s what we learn to do with our feelings that matter. We need to help our kids to be able to learn how to express their feelings responsibly. And if they don’t get the practice in our home, they don’t learn that.

And you know what’s so cool is we can say, “I’m learning right along with you.” Join them in that. There was power when I realized I never learned how to handle conflict in my family. But really, I want our family to be a family that can work through conflict and can talk about what’s going on with us. Because if we don’t, that’s when a lot of resentment builds up. I see that working with couples, where over 20 years, they haven’t known how to work through that conflict. So resentment builds up.

And I just want you to know, be patient with yourself in the process. We can learn how to do it.


4. Become a non-judgmental presence through listening.

To truly listen to somebody, we have to be willing to sit with them in whatever they’re feeling. If we want to be a safe place for our kids and feel safe opening up and talking to us, we need to get better at listening. And I still work on listening every single day.

It’s an art. It’s like learning a new language. There’s a reason we were born with two ears and one mouth — we have to be willing to be quietto put our judgment, wanting to fix things aside, and advise our kids right off the bat. Or to minimize or dismiss their feelings because we’re uncomfortable. For instance, our kid comes and tells us about how they get left out from the girlfriend group.

And oh my gosh, it’s so painful. Or a boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with them, and they’re crying. Or they’re furious at you for not letting them go out to the party. So they’re lashing out in anger, or they’re having angry outbursts.

It’s tough to listen when those things are going on. It isn’t natural or easy.

So, listening is so important, but it’s hard, especially when our tween or teen says something. At this age, it’s important to note they won’t like to hear no. One of the biggest things I see moms struggle with — they get upset when their kid gets upset when they tell them no.

Our kids are fighting for independence — they want to be their own boss, even though they’re not mature enough yet. Even though they need limits and boundaries, which I talk about on the third day of this parenting training. They need that because that creates boundaries, and limits create safety for them.

And sometimes we don’t tell them because we don’t like to deal with the backlash and that anger. And that’s okay, and you can stand firm and not make them bad. It takes time, patience, self-control, and practice. The more that we practice it, the easier it will become.

We need to listen first, fully because our kids share their feelings and emotions because of so much of it. They figure it out, and they learn how to problem-solve just by talking about it out loud. And then we can say things like, “What do you think you want to do?”

“I hear you’re angry,” or “I hear you’re upset. What are you going to do about that? Would you like me to support you in any way?” 

We can say, “Do you just want to vent right now and get it out? Or would you like any advice?”Often, what I call it is unsolicited advice — they’re not asking for advice.

But we want to jump in there and tell them because if everybody took our advice, things would be so much better. I believe that. But it won’t be long-term. We won’t be helping them to learn how to problem-solve.

When we’re giving a lot of advice, we’re telling them what to do. They get the message that my mom doesn’t believe that I can handle this. That can increase their anxiety. So how do we listen? I just want to give you a few little tools.

You want to reflect whatever their feeling. That’s why it’s so important to start recognizing what your feelings and emotions are.

So put into words what you think your child might be feeling, instead of reacting out of your feelings — which, oh my gosh, is so easy to do. And you can always check it out by asking, “Have I got that right? You seem sad. Am I right?”

And they’ll correct you usually and say more. And when your team comes home from school complaining about a friend or teacher, or they’re doing e-learning, you can say something like, “I hear you’re angry. You got a C on your paper, and you don’t think that you deserved it.” Or, “It makes sense to me that you would be discouraged because you studied so hard,” and then you say nothing.

We can be so tempted to say, “Well, if you had to studied more…”

Sometimes we may do that. We can catch ourselves and see them suddenly put up that wall and walk away. They’re like, “You don’t listen, you don’t get me.” We’re in that power struggle. So you want to say something like, I hear you’re angry, and you’re disappointed.

So being part of that safe place is just reflecting what we hear. You see how this is different than giving advice or telling them what to do, or criticizing them. Or maybe they have that friendship issue.

I went through that with each of my kids. At this age, so many friendship groups shift there. They’re trying to find their tribe, and maybe it changes. Suddenly, they have a lot of different interests, and that can be a messy process. Our kids get hurt, and then mama bear comes out.

But saying something like, “That must have hurt when Sheila talked behind your back to Nancy. Gosh, I can see how that hurt.” Then, we want to be quiet because they’ll usually say something like, “Yes, it hurt. And you know what, honey, I’m here for you. I know that hurt. I just want to sit with you right now.”

Do you need a hug? Or want me to make your favorite snack for you?” I mean, that’s a little bit of making it better.

But that’s a little different than jumping in and saying other things but being a comfort. Don’t underestimate the power of just sitting with them in their pain and grief.

My mother-in-law passed away several years ago, and at her funeral, one of her best friends said something compelling.

She said, “When my husband passed away, she came to my house every single day for six weeks. I forget the timeframe. And all she did was open the door and sit with me. Sometimes she maybe said something, but she just showed up and sat with me.” It’s the same thing with our kids.

When you don’t know what to say, a simple, “Really? or “Wow, yeah. What did you do?” We’ll open them up, and they will say more. When you start practicing this, don’t be surprised if your kid’s body language changes. When I started doing this with my kids, they were kind of expecting something to come.

They tell me something, and you could almost see their shoulders would go up to their ears like, “Oh, here it comes. My mom’s going to give me advice. She’s got to tell me I did something wrong.”

So I just want you to start practicing this and see the difference that it can make. In closing, I just want you to know that listening provides your child with the greatest comfort. It’s your acceptance of your kids and will give them the tools to better cope with whatever situation they’re going through. It’s very counterintuitive as moms.

When you start practicing listening, you will notice you calm them down, allow them to express themselves, and don’t shut them down by trying to fix them.

Our Inner Circle group is so powerful because you can come here and vent. Then, you’re not going to take it out as much on your kids. Also, just being able to call that safe person where you can vent, and they’re not going to try to fix it.

But you can just express what you’re going through.

5. Validate your tween or teen’s feelings.

It doesn’t mean you agree with them or you’re giving in. It’s mentally and emotionally present with them. And repeating back like, “That sounds tough. Please help me to understand why you’re upset.”

Or, “I want to really listen to what you have to say. So why don’t we sit down and tell me, so you have my undivided attention?”

Or, “I see you’re very angry. I want to understand how you feel because you matter to me.”

Or, “It’s hard for me to listen when you’re acting this way. So I’m ready to listen and to understand when you feel calmer. So why don’t we just take a timeout, and we’ll come back to it.”

In closing today, I just want you to practice this. When we can create that safe, non-judgmental presence, we can seek to see our kids, their emotions and feelings, and hear what they have to say. They’re going to feel soothed and feel comforted. They’re going to feel like my mom wants to know and understand me — she gets me, and I’m not crazy for feeling the way I do. I make sense. So, it’s an incredible gift.

More information:

I know how busy you are, and that you are setting a time to listen in today just means so much to me. And as many of you know, this past week, I led a three-day free parenting tweens and teens training called Building A Strong Relationship With Your Tween and Teen. If you missed it, you can reach out to me and learn more about how you can access it. My email is [email protected].

I’m always amazed at what happens when we are vulnerable and share our challenges and how healing and reassuring it can be because we can feel so alone. And moms were coming in the chat and saying, “Me too.” 

Another mom would chime in and say, “I’m experiencing that same thing.” There is power in that, so I just want to read briefly what a couple of moms said. This will encourage you to practice some of these things in your parenting.

Valerie said, “I have to say that the first two sessions reshaped the way I see my son. It is good to recalibrate around our strategies and our goals and parenting. I practice some of the skills already, and I already see the changes.

Linda said, “I just went through your three-day series workshop from this past week; I wanted to tell you how grateful I am for you and your knowledge. And last night, I tried one of your strategies, and it was like a miracle. I love that my son didn’t argue back to me. I want so much to have a great relationship with my kids. And I just know your advice will help me tremendously.”

Wendy said, “I feel like I’m getting my kids back. They are responding immediately. So thank you so much. That’s so exciting. And the strategies do work. I’m just going to share just a little bit of what I shared at that three-day training that I know is going to help you as well.”

I also want to briefly let you know that the inner circle membership opened up after the three-day training, and you can still get in. If you’re interested in finding out more, you can email me.

We launched the Inner Circle, our eight-week parenting program. I’m going to talk about all of these things more in detail — we’re going to talk about disrespect, how to navigate your tween and teen’s technology, and set limits and boundaries.

We’re going to talk about the ways we parent, our triggers, and understanding ourselves more.

There’s also a private community that you can join when you’re a member, and it’s just this amazing community.

And I do weekly coaching calls with question and answer in there, and you can post and connect with the other moms. You have access to all of my past workshops as part of your membership that I usually charge for. There’s a toolkit of downloads, weekly printable units, mini-classes, conversation scripts, and so much more. So now it’s open. I just want to support you on so many different levels.

So anyway, have a great week. And I will see you back here next week. I have some inspiring guests that are coming on the show. And so I cannot wait. Thanks so much for joining me.

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