Creating a safe space
What happened to that snuggly little person who crawled into your lap pleading for one more bedtime story? The sound of the tiny voice, begging for one more drink of water to prolong bedtime. Who is this new creature? This alien who invades this once recognizable body; now barricading themselves in their room, the room that once held monsters under the bed. The invasion is no longer of pretend shadows rising on the wall, but of hormones apprehending your precious *teendom’s body and brain. Parents at their wits’ end, seek answers to navigate this silent unfamiliar world topped off with a dollop of insolence and indignation. Asking themselves, how do I reach across this Great Barrier Reef and connect to this foreigner speaking a different language? Having stumbled in my own attempts to break down the blockade with my four now-adult children, I share in all humbleness the following observations of a 6th-grade teacher.
The goal… create a safe space for the door of conversation to open. Sometimes the door is light and swings freely, for others the weight and wait can feel insurmountable. Be okay with either. Be patient. Be ok with silence and stillness. Connecting does not always mean conversation. When the entrance does open and chatter begins, LISTEN! ALL CAPS…LISTEN. No judgments. No reminders. No reminiscing. So, let’s get started!
1. Food, glorious food
Good food brings out the best in all of us and that goes for our teendoms* too. Snatching them up for an after school visit to the local coffee shop or the trendy new gelato joint scores extra points. Caveat: Although you may feel compelled to begin the questioning, “How was your day? What homework do you have?” Don’t do it! Pause. Let silence do its thing. In teaching, we call it “wait time.” You’ll be surprised when given the chance, how much pours out. If not now, give it time.
2. Surprise package
Who doesn’t love a surprise? Think tooth fairy in the form of Amazon Prime. A package of sparkly gel pens secretly placed on a bedroom pillow. The 3×3 Smooth Play Rubrik’s cube next to the morning bowl of Captain Crunch. A box of velvet scrunchies to pass along to their latest crush. You get the idea. Reminder: No need getting caught up in bigger is better. A little goes a long way!
3. Get to school
Don’t be a stranger. Yep, you heard me right. Too many parents believe that upon departure from the early school years, it’s time to become invisible. Nothing could be further from the truth. Each year as a handful of parents deliver “Teacher Boo Treats,” I witness my students welcome their parent at the door. Not once, did I see a child cower in embarrassment. With pride, I hear, “Hi Mom!” making sure the greeting is loud enough for classmates to recognize who is in the hallways. Word of Caution: Do not draw attention to yourself. They don’t need YOU to be seen or heard. Your presence does the job.
4. Volunteer together
Nothing makes an impact like serving those in need. With a group of 13-year-old boys plus moms, my son and I cleaned the walls, floors and bedding of our local Salvation Army. Play with the puppies at your local Humane Society. Read to the residents of the nearest nursing home. Research your area. Get a group together. Make it happen. Note: YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT.
5. Be their cheerleader
If you always dreamed of being part of the squad, now is your chance. Stipulation: No megaphones or phones allowed. With school days full of polished put-downs, purposeful pushdowns and snarky comebacks, this is our time to practice our cheers. “Encourage. Acceptance. We’ve got your back. Encourage. Acceptance. You’re the best of the pack.” Ok, maybe not exactly that, but you get my drift. Experiencing the hourly roller coaster ride of emotions, our children long for approval. Be their biggest fan. Let them hear, “You are good enough.”