Navigating the teenage years can be a challenging period for both parents and adolescents. Emotions run high, and every conversation seems to devolve into a shouting match, with your teen storming off to their room. You may be wondering how to parent when they won’t even talk to you. Emotionally Focused Family Therapy (EFFT) is an attachment-based therapy that enables parents to build stronger connections with their teens, foster emotional security, and promote healthier interactions within the family dynamic. In this blog, we’ll delve into the core principles of EFFT and how they can be applied to effectively parent your teen.
Understand and Validate Emotions
During adolescence, teens experience a rollercoaster of emotions, and parents must recognise and validate these feelings, even when they don’t understand or agree with them. You are an adult, and through your life experiences, you know that what they’re feeling isn’t necessary, and you just want them to feel better. That can lead to your teen not feeling validated when they share their emotion. They can feel defective or inadequate when you try to ‘teach’ them how not to feel or tell them they don’t have to feel that way. Emotionally Focused Family Therapy emphasizes the significance of acknowledging emotions rather than dismissing or trivialising them. By being empathetic and understanding, parents create a safe space for their teens to express themselves openly.
Be Open to Honest Communication
A healthy relationship is based on open and honest communication. EFFT encourages parents to actively listen to their teens without judgment or interruption. If you don’t show genuine interest and concern, your questioning can feel more like an interrogation rather than care and interest. Ask open-ended questions and ask them to correct you if you get things wrong or misunderstand what they shared.
Avoid “Why” questions such as “Why did you…” as Why statements can sound judgemental. Replace them with “How” questions, such as “How did you feel about …”.
Ask, “What was it like for you when….”, instead of “Why did you speak to your sister that way?”
Say, “I noticed you were upset with your sister. Would you like to share what was happening for you?”
By providing a non-judgmental environment, you allow your teen to trust and confide in you.
Recognise Patterns and Triggers
EFFT helps parents identify recurring patterns of interaction and emotional triggers within the family. Some common patterns are teens feeling judged and feeling emotionally unsafe to be open with caregivers and lashing out in anger or retreating to their rooms and disconnecting. The more teens disconnect, the more parents react emotionally in this emotional polka of pursue and withdraw. Parents often feel guilty and inadequate and may want to disconnect and be unresponsive to their teens. They might feel offended and betrayed mistaking their teen’s withdrawal and stonewalling as disrespect. When your teen is being disrespectful to you, it is usually a sign that they are emotionally dysregulated and when they go away, it is them needing to find ways to soothe and calm themselves. Understanding these triggers enables parents to respond with greater awareness and control, thereby promoting a more positive and nurturing environment.
Promote Emotional Security
Teenagers require emotional security as they navigate the challenges of adolescence. Unlike relationships you have with your spouse or friends, where both parties are expected to give care and support mutually, the parent-child relationship relies on the parent providing safety and care for their children. Consistent with boundaries and discipline is important. However, you should avoid being strict at the cost of losing opportunities for constructive discussions. Emotional security allows teens to feel supported and helps them develop healthier coping mechanisms.
Foster Empathy and Understanding
Empathy is a powerful tool in parenting teenagers. By stepping into your teen’s shoes and trying to understand their perspective, you strengthen the parent-child bond. Show empathy to help your teen understand that their emotions matter even if you don’t agree with them. When you consistently show empathy, you are modelling this for them so that they can also learn to show empathy towards you and other family members.
Encourage Autonomy and Independence
Teenagers naturally seek independence as they develop their identities. Many parents have difficulty adapting to their children’s new need for autonomy and exploration. EFFT recognises the importance of granting autonomy to teens while still providing guidance and support. It is challenging to stay connected while you give your teens autonomy. However, a healthy parent-teen relationship will give you an opportunity to provide guidance while allowing your young person to make their own age-appropriate decisions. Allowing your teen to explore their independence fosters self-confidence and self-reliance.
Be a Role Model
Parents are powerful role models for their children, and this is especially true during the teenage years. Emotionally Focused Family Therapy encourages parents to model healthy emotional expression and conflict resolution. It is more effective to show your teens how to be rather than telling them what to do.
Parenting teenagers can be a complex and emotionally charged experience, but by incorporating the principles of Emotionally Focused Family Therapy, parents can build stronger connections with their teens and create a more nurturing family environment. Understanding and validating emotions, promoting open communication, recognizing triggers, fostering empathy, encouraging autonomy, and being a positive role model are key aspects of EFFT that can lead to a healthier parent-teen relationship. Remember, it’s okay to seek professional help if you encounter persistent challenges, as EFFT-trained therapists can provide additional guidance and support on this parenting journey. Together, with love, understanding, and patience, parents can help their teens thrive during this transformative stage of life.