So you have a teenage daughter. Sometimes life is great and you’re getting along just fine. But other times, no matter what you do or say, she refuses to talk to you or acts totally annoyed over something very small. Sound familiar?
Most parents are right there with you. The sometimes stormy and emotional side of a growing teen can be confusing. But as a teen myself, I have a few tips for ways to keep the peace with your teen daughter.
Don’t assume she hates you
If your daughter is acting like she is mad at you, try your best not to get mad back. It’s human nature to defend ourselves, but if your teen is frustrated about something else and you take it personally, she will probably get even more annoyed because now you are mad at her on top of whatever else she was already stressed about.
While you might be aware of some of the challenges we are wrestling with, we are usually struggling with other problems in our lives that we haven’t told you about. These other problems can seem overwhelming and can cause us to be unusually irritable, unfortunately taking it out on you. If you assume you know what is going on in our minds or you simply confront us for being disrespectful and launch into a big lecture, we’ll likely react with anger or just shut down.
Instead, when you notice your daughter is unusually agitated, and even being a little rude or obnoxious, consider asking her how she is doing. If she seems approachable and genuinely interested, she may just open up and talk about some of the issues she is having. Then again, she may act annoyed and simply say, “Fine.” But your question just might help her realize that she is being unfair and taking her stress out on you.
If she chooses not to talk about it – for now – please don’t try and pry it out of her. Rather, as much as it might hurt to admit, remember that sometimes your daughter may want to talk to someone other than you. She may be thinking she doesn’t want to bother you with her problems, or she may be worried about what you will think or how you will respond. She may anticipate that you will swoop in and try to save the day in ways that she doesn’t like. Whatever the reason, accept it for now and focus on being thankful she has other trusted mentors and friends she can talk with.
Really listen, but on her timetable
When your teen gets home from school and you cheerfully ask, “How was your day?” only to have her shrug you off and stomp to her room, don’t worry, you said nothing wrong. If the day hasn’t gone too well, she might not be ready to give you an honest answer. Or she just may want to decompress before engaging in a conversation. She may also question your agenda and wonder if you are only asking so you can find out about her grades. Or, maybe she just assumes you are asking because you feel obligated to do so.
Your best chance of success will come when you convey that you are asking because you really care and are prepared to listen without judgment or interruption. Little signals like putting your phone away, giving her your full attention, and listening without interrupting go a long way. Because most of all, she wants to know she’s important and that you’ll give her the time even if you are busy.
You can also help to create situations in which conversations can naturally occur. One way to do this is to do an activity with her, such as baking cookies, going to the mall, or watching a game. Sometimes the “side by side” approach is more comfortable than the “eye to eye” approach.
Don’t be quick to put it all on her
While she might give you plenty of reasons to peg her as the problem, doing so will only make things worse. Even if her issues are the bulk of it, take time to reflect on how you might be contributing to any tension or conflict that exists between you.
For example, the two of you might have very different personalities. If you are generally a quick-paced, task-oriented person, and your daughter is a more relaxed, go-with-the-flow person, she may not react well if you get really wound up about something that she doesn’t think is a big deal. The opposite can be true too.
Others have found that stress between parents can also impact the parent’s relationship with their daughter. Werneck and his colleagues (published in the European Journal of Developmental Psychology) discovered that conflict between parents can affect a child’s personality, as well as the strength of her relationship with her parents. If you and your spouse fight a lot, your daughter may be hesitant to interact because she is afraid that she may appear to be taking sides.
Try to be aware of how you act around your daughter when you are stressed or fighting with your spouse. If your stress or marital tension is coming out in that relationship, do your best to keep that from happening in the future. In addition, consider apologizing to her, reassuring her that you are not upset with her, and promising to do your best to not take out your stress on her in the future. You might be surprised just how much of a difference that one conversation can have on your relationship with your daughter.
Make time for her
As strange as it sounds, sometimes we really want to walk the dog together or go to the grocery store with you. We know you are busy and have many responsibilities, but these simple times can be prime opportunities. Though meaningful conversations may arise, it’s also important to just relax, have fun and talk about unimportant things…or not talk at all. Just the implicit fact that you want to be with her is a meaningful message in and of itself.
A word of caution here. Be careful not to always turn these moments into opportunities to “parent” us. Yes, some good advice here and there is helpful, but if these trips tend to turn into messages about how we can improve or be more successful, they will most likely backfire.
But, hey, the good news is that we are likely indirectly benefiting from these outings without even realizing it! A recent study in the journal of Youth & Society by Liang and his associates found that these types of random outings together outside of the home often tend to teach her valuable social skills and help her feel more confident in how to handle everyday situations, such as meeting a new neighbor while walking the dog, or talking with the grocery store clerk at check out.
Don’t try to fit in with her friends
We’ve all seen it in movies or TV shows – the parent trying hard to fit in or be accepted by their teen’s friends. Few things will be more annoying to your daughter. Why? Because even though you may be just trying to relate and help her friends have fun, she will find it embarrassing and assume that her friends are annoyed by you…even if they aren’t.
In short, she wants space to be herself with her friends and having you around makes it hard for her to do so. So do your best not to hover when she has friends over. Avoid the urge to spy on her at the high school football game. Yes, her safety is important, but there are other ways to stay connected and aware of who her friends are and what she’s up to.
And whatever you do, don’t try to act like you’re a teenager when you’re not. Don’t wear teen clothes, use teen slang, or make teen gestures. It may seem cool, but it’s not.
In summary, you are bound to annoy your teenage daughter. There’s no getting around that. But these tips should help you annoy her less. And remember, your daughter does want you in her life, maybe just not at that very moment. So when you feel pushed away, not wanted, or like you can’t ever win, take a step back along with a few deep breaths and trust that she loves you even when she doesn’t show it.