You ask your teen how their test went, and they tell you.
You ask what they have for homework – are they on top of it? – and they tell you.
They tell you honestly. No snark. Sans eye roll.
And we’re not talking one word answers – we’re talking proper conversation about classes, grades, their sleep habits, how they’re really doing and feeling.
No accusing you of not trusting them. No “stop nagging me already.”
You spend more time talking about life, and less time fighting or worrying about school.
This can start happening in your home, with your teen, this week.
Through what we call a Terms of Engagement (ToE) conversation.
I’ve been mediating ToE’s for a while now, up until last year as an intervention for families experiencing severe conflict. Think frequent screaming matches, lots of crying (from teens and parents) and overall relationship-ruining dynamics around school.
I admit, I was slow to consider – what if we had the ToE with families who weren’t necessarily in full-blown crisis mode, but who wanted happier, healthier dialogue around school and learning?
After all, most parents I speak with have kids who get mad or annoyed when they ask, and/or shut them out (often quite literally, shutting themselves in their room), give one-word answers etc. The ToE addresses this particular communication problem.
So I started doing ToE’s with more and more families, and was blown away by the impacts. Most teens loved it. Every teen willingly participated. Parents shared they hadn’t really believed their kids would be so forthcoming. That to their delight, their teen started talking more openly about school and non-school stuff, that they were able to enjoy their relationship with their kid more, that respecting the ToE as a parent was hard, illuminating and liberating.
So how do you have the ToE conversation with your child?
First, understand that you’ll be co-creating Terms of Engagement with your child. It’s a student-led conversation that clearly defines the frequency and scope of discussions about school.
Here are the steps:
Step 1: propose the ToE conversation to your child and confirm the day/time you’ll have this conversation. Allow for about 30 minutes. Let them know you want to stop nagging/fighting/[insert main pain point here] and that this is their chance to decide when to talk about school with you and for how long (every teen likes the idea of being in control of when you ask them about school…shocking, right?).
Step 2: print the ToE template (here) for yourself, your child and any other parent or guardian. Or, draw from the template and use a Google doc to take notes.
Step 3: practice this conversation each week during your allotted days and times with consistency and compassion.
Step 4: enjoy more positive, productive communication around school and happier household dynamics.
Let me know if you have any questions and definitely let me know how it goes!
To your happier home,
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