You want to know more about your teen daughter’s life so you can keep her accountable and keep her out of trouble. There are times when you need to step in, be the adult and set firm rules and boundaries. But sometimes, even when your daughter brings up a minor conflict or everyday situation, you might be responding in a way that erodes trust. Be sure you aren’t making one of these common mistakes that often keep parents from building trust with their daughter. Instead, here are 4 ways you can have more trusting, open, and productive conversations with your teen girl:
- Help her come to her own conclusions
If you are here reading this, then I already know you are a deeply caring and involved parent. Her whole life, you’ve been instilling values to help her make good choices. You’ve done this, sometimes explicitly in conversation, but more often, just by modeling those decision-making skills in your own life. She’s been watching and learning. So when she tells you about a problem she is having, resist the urge to fix it. Just listen, bounce ideas off each other, and help her come to her own conclusions about what to do. She will surprise you with a lot of wisdom and discernment if you give her the chance to figure it out for herself.
- Be process-oriented
When your daughter comes to you with a dilemma or conflict she’s facing, focus on how she’s processing information and coming to conclusions. For example, if she is telling you about an argument with her best friend, rather than suggesting how she should resolve the problem, ask questions to find out her thought process. Ask her what she values about the friendship, what aspects of the friendship bother her. Ask her about the different ways she could handle the situation and what are the possible outcomes. By being process-oriented in this way, you help her develop critical thinking skills and bolster her ability to solve her own problems. Additionally, you’ll build trust with her by being non-judgmental, and she’ll start opening up to you more and more as she encounters other tricky situations.
- Focus on social consequences
It’s quite common for parents to become overbearing or use discipline when trying to mold their daughter’s behavior. Grounding her, taking away privileges, or restricting her access to the phone or computer might be useful consequences for certain situations, however, you must always help her connect the consequences of real life too. When your daughter makes a risky choice, you worry about her, not just because she broke a house rule, but also because of the real-world consequences of those choices. If your daughter acts out, talk with her about how her behavior might impact her friendships, relationships with teachers, siblings, or family members. Get her to think about other impacts her choices may have on her boundaries, her safety, or her ability to be happy in the long run. This approach teaches your daughter to not only follow the rules you set, but also to develop foresight so she can make better choices on her own and develop her own moral compass.
- Celebrate her abilities
Inevitably, there have been many times when your daughter has a challenging situation to navigate, and she’s made a really good and sound decision. For hours a day at school, she is faced with those difficult realities, and she’s had many successes that you don’t always get to see for yourself. Have her tell you about one of those times and really listen to her perspective. Highlight what she did well in that situation, and help her summon those abilities when facing other challenges.
Also, remember that your daughter is a human being with her own personality and interests. Nurture these even if they aren’t interests you share. Helping her develop her abilities and passions will make her resilient and brave as she faces peer pressure and hard choices. Having a good sense of who she is also helps her establish healthy boundaries and the confidence to make safe choices even when her peers aren’t being so wise.
Developing these conversational habits can take time and may feel awkward at first, especially if you and your daughter are used to a more traditional parent-child relationship. If your daughter reacts unfavorably at first, give it time, and don’t give up. You can even be honest with her about why you are trying to communicate in a new way. Find a way to “be yourself” while having these conversations, and with time, you and your daughter will be engaging in a totally different, more personal, and much more connected way.