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Ten Things to Say When Your Teen Leaves You Speechless

You want to just naturally say the right thing to your teen in those moments when something unexpected happens: When you’re surprised, worried, scared, angry.

You want to be calm, supportive, wise. You hope you will not freak out, shame or blame or make things worse. If there are consequences to be given, you want them to be ones that make sense and that will hold.

Maybe you did expect whatever happened, but didn’t imagine what it would feel to be THE PARENT, face to face with your teen’s misbehavior, pain or failure and wanting, hoping to say the best thing, or at least something that does not make things worse.

It's not easy to find the right words in that moment. I’m a social worker, parent coach and mom of three young adults. It’s not that I have no idea what to do or say. (Although sometimes I do not) It’s just that sometimes, in the moment, your parenting head is just not in the game and you freeze, or just say the first unhelpful thing that comes into your head.

In these situations, it can really help to have some practiced responses ready, while you take some time to consider the more thoughtful response/consequence/etc.

Of course, what you say depends on the situation, but here are some ideas. It can help to prepare a few of these (memorize, write down, paraphrase) to have in your back pocket.

Use mine or create your own, in a moment when you are calm and not distracted by an emotional or unexpected issue with your teen:

1. Are you OK/safe?

2. I’m so glad you came to me about this.

3. Thank you for talking to me about this. I know it was not easy for you.

4. I’m impressed with your ___________ (maturity, caring, honesty, loyalty, kindness, openness)

5. What do you think would be a good next step?

6. How do you think you (or we, if appropriate) can fix this?

7. How can I help you with this?

8. I’m __________ (surprised, concerned, hurt) by your behavior but I appreciate your _____________ (honesty, openness, accepting responsibility).

9. I’m glad you’re safe. I need some time to get my thoughts together so we’ll talk _____________ (in an hour, tomorrow morning) (don’t wait too long and don’t make it a threat)

10. We’re all ________ (exhausted, upset, not in good shape) to talk about this right now. Let’s all ______________ (get some rest, take a moment to breathe, ?) and talk about it ______ (in an hour, tomorrow morning, ?) NEVER dish out discipline or have the very serious talk when everyone is upset, anyone (parent or teen) is drunk or high, or anyone’s anger is high. Don’t be pushed into dealing with things immediately. Heat of the moment is for de-escalation and ensuring safety

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