In his best selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says, “Children desperately want to open up, even more to their parents than to their peers. And they will if they feel their parents will love them unconditionally and will be faithful to them afterwards and not judge or ridicule them.”
Unconditional love is essential to a strong relationship with your teen and a key element of effective communication. But what does it mean and how do you foster it in your own home?
Ya gotta love ‘em!
Parenting a teen is difficult enough when things are going fairly smoothly. But it becomes doubly hard when your child rebels, argues, disobeys or puts his or her safety at risk. We feel so responsible for our son or daughter that we sometimes aren’t as patient, understanding, kind or loving as we should be.
How do we express unconditional love for our teen when there’s so much at stake when she’s put herself at risk, when he’s made a bad decision, when defiance sets in?
The path to adulthood is filled with potholes. Kids make mistakes. They ignore advice, disrespect your values and sometimes emulate the wrong models. They are convinced of their invincibility. These are serious obstacles. They can, however, be overcome.
The following are steps that helped us improve our relationship with our own kids. We didn’t always get it right—not every step was successful. Like you, we learned through experience and continued practice.
• Tell your children you love them. Say it often and mean it. You will not always like what they do … but you should always love who they are.
• Actions happen on the surface. Character is deep. Kids will make mistakes. Their behavior, however, does not necessarily define their character.
• Be patient. Try to understand the circumstances. As Stephen Covey said so well, attempt to understand before being understood.
• Forgive with grace. Let it go. Move on.
• Listen well. Ask questions. Listen more.
• Provide stability and support. Teens need to know that their parents will be there for them.
• Be the kind of person you want your child to be. Serve as your child’s #1 role model. At the same time, give some space to breathe. Make sure you provide room for your teen’s own interests to bloom.
• Expect the best. Kids will rise to the occasion. Maintain high but reasonable expectations.
Your unconditional love wraps up the entire package. You will be there to listen, to be supportive, to encourage, to provide guidance and to keep on loving no matter what. Author James Baldwin wrote, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”