Creating Safe Space for Talking - Tip #1
I am going to share three tips in depth over the next three weeks about creating safe space for teenager to open up and talk. This creates a better bond between parent and teenager, as well as avoiding many other pitfalls as below. It's also a great first step to avoiding the stigma of reaching mental health status by dealing with challenges early on.
Why is creating safe space important?
Just as we all need safe space around us physically, to move freely without tripping over the clutter, or other people's feet, bumping into people, catching yourself on the corners of furniture etc. we also need a similar approach to emotions.
It takes time to learn resilience, along with lots of practice, and when emotions are constantly bombarded, prodded, poked, taunted, stressed, overwhelmed and tugged at, they need a safe space to decompress.
A teenager sitting in a bedroom may be avoiding lots of emotional issues, but this does not always offer decompression, when they are stressing over homework, playing games, talking to the wrong friends online, and setting them self up for more emotional trips and falls.
What is safe space?
Safe Space emotionally is not about a literal space. It is about an emotional space where they feel safe from any outside influence, feel nurtured, listened to, valued, supported, and able to share information of sensitive nature without judgement or bias coming back at them.
How do I create this safe space? Tip #1 Remain Calm.
Remain calm at all times. This can be really difficult when you hear things that hurt your feelings about your child, no matter how grown up they are.
Sometimes you may hear that they are stuck with something and struggling to find a resolution. Other times they may speak out about being bullied. You should also give thought to how you would be likely to react if you found out something worse, such as you child having been abused, raped, doing drugs, committing a crime, or something else entirely.
Thinking of the list above, if you teenager says they want to drop out of college and you "react" not so calmly - just think about a time when you teenager may wish to tell you something more serious. Are they likely to want to talk to you if you reacted to something smaller? Or are they likely to keep deep issues to themselves? They could also end up talking to the wrong person instead, who prays on their victim story, or uses it against them after gaining their trust. Now the trauma is even worse than the original challenge.
What if it doesn't work?
If you try listening to your teenager or young adult, and they don't open up, the most important thing again, is remain calm, don't react negatively to being shut out. It may take multiple attempts to regain their trust, and it may happen in stages, not all at once.
Although this may not be your child, and it may be something easy to resolve, please also consider that there are teenagers out there as we speak, dealing with the following issues too:
Alcohol and substance abuse
Drug Running or dealing
Sexual curiosity (online/text/phone) and high bills
Child Exploitation (long term secret)
It may also be something less sinister or serious such as
Having personal data hacked
Body confidence issues
Sleeping with someone
Secretly going on the pill (can sometimes cause depression)
Peer pressure (home or school)
Exam or Job interview nerves
Medication side effects
Poor diet or food addiction
Unrequited crush love
There is an endless list of possibilities that could be troubling your teenager and I am pretty sure you will have some intuition around their habits, as to what is troubling them.
If they haven't opened up after a few attempts, pay attention to when their moods are better or worse, who they have been spending time with, what films or games they have been watching, what they are eating and more. Try and gain some footing for each following conversation.
The most important thing is, that when they do finally talk, it is important that they understand you are there to listen to THEM and NOT to react for you. Remain calm and you may just surprise yourself, and be surprised at how much closer it can bring you, what ever has happened in their life.
I'll be back with Tip #2 next week
Never ever give up!
You can catch some of Kay's interviews here on YouTube about how she helped her son through suicidal and teenage depression, by teaching him Emotional Awareness.