Do your children feel loved? Do they move through their days with a deep and abiding sense that they are truly loved and cherished? Studies have found that feeling loved confers important benefits: physical and mental health benefits,i protection against anxiety and depression, reduced risk of substance abuse, a sense of security, and more successful relationships.
We want our kids to feel loved, but then comes adolescence, the developmental stage that arguably tests the limits of a parent’s loving capacity. Teenagers naturally seek autonomy and strive to shape an identity separate from their parents, with hormone-triggered mood fluctuations as a backdrop to it all. It’s no wonder that parent-child conflict is, for many families, the hallmark of adolescence. How loving can a parent be toward teens who show up with indifference, insolence, and scorn?
Recognizing the positive benefits associated with feeling loved, researchers investigated the question of whether conflict with parents precludes for adolescents the sense of feeling loved.ii It wasn’t surprising when the data revealed that on days when parent-child conflict occurred, teens felt less loved. What was surprising was the power of parental warmth to mitigate conflict’s negative impact: so long as parents delivered warmth on days of conflict, teens tended to feel no loss of love.
Here are ways to preserve warmth despite episodes of conflict with your teenager:
- Resist the contagion of your teen’s negativity. Meet their sourness with positivity, perhaps even an ounce of humor.
- Don’t withhold affection. Circle back after unpleasantness with a smile, a hug, an offer of a snack.
- Compliment them for something positive within their conflict style — for the skill of asserting their needs and wants, for the courage to speak their truth —whatever you can salvage from a difficult entanglement.
- Use empathic listening (see Trusting Emotions) so they experience the satisfaction of feeling accurately seen and heard by you.
- Restate their point of view in your own words with care and sensitivity, even if you don’t agree with it, so they know that understanding their perspective is important to you.
- Don’t delay in clearing the air; hold no grudge. Offer sincere amends for any poor behavior on your part, and tell them if their words hurt your feelings (see Emotional Honesty) so they have an opportunity to make amends to you.
i Fredrickson B.L., (Dec 2013) “Positive emotions broaden and build.” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 47:1-53. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-407236-7.00001-2
ii Coffey, J. K., Xia, M., & Fosco, G. M. (2020). “When do adolescents feel loved? A daily within-person study of parent–adolescent relations.” Emotion. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000767