Don’t Freak Out! That advice seems so simple in theory, but if you have children – especially teens and tweens — it is pretty natural to react in a way that they interpret as ‘freaking out’, which shuts down lines of communication without you ever realizing it.
I must have gotten 20 plus texts the other weekend, it was hilarious. I was so tickled because apparently Andy Stanley (North Point Community Church) was doing a sermon series on the family and he and his wife Sandra mentioned my book For Parents Only. I was so thrilled to get texts like, “You are NOT going to believe this, Andy & Sandra Stanley actually held your book up and mentioned how it impacted their own parenting!” And “You will never guess who gave you a shout out today at church…” I chuckled realizing some of my friends actually texted during the SERVICE!
Andy and Sandra were referencing the discovery on our anonymous, nationally-representative survey, that three-fourths of teens indicated, “If I knew my parents wouldn’t freak out, I would really like to share certain things with them.” Basically, our teens and tweens are like skittish little deer: an emotional reaction on our part can send them scrambling away – and will make them less likely to come to us in the future. Now here’s the key: I was quite amused to hear kids define “freaking out” as showing any emotion – even positive ones!
Instead, you are signaling “tell me more” when you listen … calmly … with little visible emotion. A smile instead of a Starbucks-jacked, “WOW that’s exciting! What did he say next?” An inquisitive eyebrow raised or a calm murmur to indicate “then what happened?” Or “intriguing” instead of a mini-sermonette (any needed reaction can come later, after you’ve thought through how to present it!).
The most amazing thing we heard from the teens and tweens was that if you can make a concerted effort to listen ultra-calmly (no matter how much you might be ‘freaking out’ on the inside), you’ll hear so much more. Andy and Sandra noted that their kids would tell them something that just happened or that they had just done, and they would nod calmly and discuss it, and then the two of them would go into another room and whisper to one another, “can you believe they just told us that?”
Every parent wants a connection with their child, so learning to suppress or control our instinctive emotional reactions is vital. And honestly… it’s especially important for working moms. Those of you who are stay-at-home moms have a bit more ability to be ‘on top of’ everything going on in the life of your middle schooler or high-schooler, to the be the one who has the kids over to your house, and so on. You can still be blindsided by certain things, but it’s a bit less likely. But when parents work full or part time, it is absolutely imperative to be purposeful about connection opportunities to hear important things – and ‘not freaking out’ is one of the most essential ways to do that. Otherwise, our kids might shy away from us just when they need someone to confide in the most! Proverbs 15:1 reminds us, ‘A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire.’
So the next time you feel the urge to blurt out to your child, “Why on earth didn’t you tell me this sooner?!” remember that their likely reaction is going to be, “Uh…because I knew you’d flip, that’s why!” Remember…slow down…stay calm…and try your hardest to internalize your emotions until you can process them later, with your husband or a friend – not your child. You’ll be glad you did.