“I don’t want advice from my parents. I just want them to, you know, get it.”
I remember hearing my first teen client express this wish years ago. Subsequent clients, using various word arrangements, regularly express the same hunger: to share, to be “heard”, and to feel truly and genuinely understood.
Because parents are conditioned to guide and teach, we often unintentionally crush possibilities for intimacy with our teens by interacting too heavily with the content they share. Reflexively, we hear what they say and lapse into “management mode”, offering warnings, solutions, considerations or by asking questions. When parents enter management mode, content becomes the focus and connection may get lost. Teens end up feel judged, annoyed, one-down, distrusted, and hurt that they received management instead of emotional connection.
What we can do instead? Next time your teen shares something, whether it’s how unfair the chem. test was or something more personal, push your internal pause button and explore the experience of becoming fully present. This is known as emotional attunement.
Emotional attunement occurs in your heart, not in your head. It means adjusting your emotional dial setting to meet the needs of the person you are listening to. It involves adjusting your personal energy to complement and allow for that person’s emotional experience.
To be emotionally attuned, you don’t need to feel what your teen feels. You don’t need to fix, judge, fight with, trivialize, or strongly react to it. In fact, to be emotionally attuned, you need to resist all of that.
Instead you open and soften both your mind and your heart, which creates a state of emotional attunement, and just listen. You can say to yourself silently: “All I need to do in this moment is open up to what’s being shared and hear it with my heart”. One parent client I work reminds herself to send her “inner manager” out of the room when her daughter is in a talking mood. Her improved ability to emotionally attune to her kids has increased their interest in sharing with her and all parties are much happier because of it.
Don’t expect yourself to be emotionally attuned all of the time. Life is busy and you have a lot to get done! Simply be open to opportunities to increase connection through emotional attunement. If you can make your teen a special priority at significant junctures, even for short periods of time, you will both experience the greater well-being and enhanced connection that emotional attunement offers.
More Hints for Emotional Attunement:
- Resist multitasking from time to time, in order to really listen
- Relax your body when you listen. It helps cue your system to be present and not en route to the next task.
- Institute a 90 – 10 rule, especially if you’re a talker. Allow 90% of the talking to come from your child while 10% comes from you.