My husband used to be hard-wired to be a fixer. There were times I just wanted a listening ear, a hug, an “Ag, shame” – the phrase South Africans say that means, “Oh honey, I’m so sorry to hear that.” Listen here:
So imagine my horror the day my son said to me: “Mom, you don’t always need to give me advice when I tell you something. Sometimes I just want to share what’s going on at school.”
😳 🙊I was wired to be a fixer too!
But wasn’t that my job? Wasn’t that what Band-Aids and hugs and nightlights were for? Fixing things when my kids felt bad?
I realized that might have been true when they were little, but maybe not so much now that they were teens.
Just when you think you have it figured out, they change. They need something you haven’t done or been or given before. Parenthood evolves whether we like it or not.
If you get the feeling your teen is outgrowing the “please fix it for me” stage, here is what I learned that can help.
Here’s What to Do and What to Say
DO: Listen without judging. My mom said that this was the best advice she could give me for raising kids. Otherwise, she said, based on our personal experience, they stop telling you stuff. I’ve used this advice with my kids and it works. Sometimes you have to be careful what happens with your facial expression, but just listen.
SAY: “Ag, shame” or “Oh honey, I’m so sorry to hear that.” (By the way, you have to mean what you say. They can tell if you don’t.)
DO: Don’t try to fix.
SAY: “Is there anything I could do to help?” If they say yes, let them tell you. If not, move onto the next step.
DO: Be empathetic, loving and reassuring. Imagine what it feels like to be them (I do this by imagining myself standing right behind them). If you’re a hugger, ask if a hug would help. If you went through something similar when you were young, say so, and offer to share what you did about it.
SAY: “I believe you have what it takes to figure this out and deal with it. I’d love to hear how you handle it. I’m always here for you if you need me.”
Why This Works
Teenagers want to feel Seen, Safe, Soothed and Supported. These are the cornerstones of secure attachment for babies, but I think they’re just as important for older kids – and anyone in healthy relationships, actually. I even use it as a framework for how I want my adult clients to feel.
Seen, safe, soothed and supported. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all felt this way? My husband is tons better at this now, and it’s great. (Thanks, honey.)
Got any other ideas for how to support kids without fixing? Please leave them below. Parents of teens need all the good ideas we can get!