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We All Know Lecturing Doesn’t Work: Here’s What To Do Instead
By Jennifer Perry, MED, MA, LPC

Ok, so we all know lecturing often doesn’t work. Kids tune us out or are so busy building their case in their minds that they aren’t really listening to what we say. So, what to do? I want to share with you today a powerful tool for paving the way to conversations with your child that connect you and get your message HEARD. I want to invite you to consider that a conversation with your teen is a PROCESS with two distinct stages. The first is connecting with empathy. The second is sharing your thoughts, parental wisdom, values, and problem solving together. Frequently, the problem is that we are impatient: we try to jump in right at the second stage of the process and the way there just isn’t paved yet. 

The very first step in an engaged, connected, productive conversation is EMPATHY. Let me tell you why. Once you have given voice to your teen’s perspective (and you DO NOT HAVE TO AGREE WITH THEIR PERSPECTIVE TO DO THIS), most people, including teens, relax. They give up fighting and trying to convince you of their point of view or the validity of their point of view. Have you ever felt like you are engaging with the most creative and dogged trial lawyer ever when arguing with your teen? THAT’S what I’m talking about. Once you can accurately verbalize their world view (we will get to how to do that in a moment) all that can calm down. Then you can get to the message that you are trying to have your teen hear and on to collaboratively problem solving what ever challenge you are facing. But don’t take my word for it ~ try it out with your spouse, friends, coworkers, and of course, your teen. 

So, how do we express empathy? This part may take a little practice. Let’s start by going over what empathy is not. 

Empathy is not: 
Trying to fix the situation “This would help ...” 
It is not offering advise “I think you should ...” 
It is not an interrogation for details or trying to figure it out: “How did that happen?”
It is not trying to impart parental wisdom in explaining: “He did that because ...”
It is not trying to correct: “That’s not what I saw happening...”
Or educate: “You can learn from this ...”
It is not shutting it down: “Don’t worry, let it go ...”
It is not consoling: “It’s not your fault ...”
It is not commiserating: “She did what? That’s awful!”
It is not one-upping: “You should hear what happened to me when ...”
It is not tale-swapping: “I remember when that happened to me ...”
It is not evaluating: “If you hadn’t done that then ...”
It is not sympathizing: “You poor kid ...”
It isn’t taking the blame: “I’m sorry, I should have ...”

Empathy is very simply placing yourself wholly in the shoes of your teen and reflecting back to them how they feel, what they need, and how they are interpreting the world/situation. It is neutral and non-judgmental: neither agreeing or disagreeing. Empathy is the language of compassion. Most of all, it is not about you. You can tell them your take in the second stage of the conversation if that’s appropriate, remember this is a process. Don’t rush on to the second part of the conversation (problem solving or sharing your view of the situation) until you have enveloped your child in empathy. 

You will know that empathy has “worked” or “landed” when your child either tells you: “Yes, that’s how I feel/see the situation” or physically relaxes in your presence. They will feel felt and understood. That is connection. Once that empathetic connection is made, you will be in a far better position to be heard by your teen and to invite your teen to explore other perspectives (including yours) and engage in a problem-solving process with you. Additionally, you will be modeling empathy for them: how to hold space for opinions and views that are different from theirs so that constructive dialogue can happen. What a gift to give your child! 

Expressing empathy is a skill that you can learn and hone. As you are building your empathy muscle it is helpful to phrase your empathetic reflections as questions. For example: “It seems like you are feeling (insert feeling work guess here) because you are needing/wanting (insert need/want here)? Is that right?”  Declaring an empathetic statement that is inaccurate will often induce a bit of an explosion on the part of your child: “That is NOT how I feel!!!!” ~ it’s ok, keep trying and model an openness to hearing your child’s point of view. You can’t fake it and give false empathy, you really need to come from a space of understanding your child’s unique way of seeing the world. Parents often feel a little threatened to do this because so often we DO want to talk our kids OUT of how they are seeing the world. The problem is that we are not in a position to help our child see another point of view or other possibilities until they really know that we get it. I love Brene Brown’s short video clip about empathy because it so beautifully illustrates this need to get down into someone’s point of view first before we can find a way out together. View the clip here:

If you would like support in your parenting journey I love helping parents find their peaceful groove and learn the tools of cooperative, connected parenting. I offer a unique combination of parenting classes and individualized coaching/support. Parenting is both the hardest and most important responsibility we hold as well as an incredible invitation for immense personal growth.
Jennifer Perry, MSEd, MA, LPC is a licensed professional counselor and parent educator and coach who utilizes mindfulness and self-compassion practices to help people find peaceful, connected, and creative solutions to life’s big challenges.

Find out more about Jen and her work at 
or by calling 215-292-5056 or emailing
Enjoy this article by another amazing therapist in our community.  If it takes a village to raise one child, it takes a community of therapist to support groups of teens!  Happy to connect with other professionals and provide you with the opportunity to learn from their areas of brilliance.

With love,

Katie K. May
Licensed Teen Therapist
Teen Therapy Group now enrolling.  Click HERE for more information.
Copyright © 2016 Creative Healing, All rights reserved.

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