Joel Toombs has been applying his mentoring approaches to his chats with his eldest and had some interesting results


Last night I sat up chatting at the kitchen table with my eldest until gone 11pm. Conversation ranged from the pressure she feels as she tackles A-Levels and her hopes and goals beyond that, to her dreams about her long summer holiday. She opened up about struggling in her relationship with her mum and we discussed self-care and growing in her character during all that is going on. Conversations like this are critical for teenagers in their development and in their maturing relationship with you. Seize them whenever you spot the opportunity – no matter how inconvenient. Often the biggest adaptation during adolescence is not for the child …but for the parent. Here’s just a few tips:

1. Give them credence about doing things for themselves.

Specifically, as your teens get older they move from needing direction and instruction as children …to needing encouragement and support as independent young adults. When they are little, ‘’I’ll do it and you watch me’ might work. As they reach adolescence you must learn to back off and allow them to try and fail, in a more ‘you do it and I’ll watch’ approach. Give them a safe environment in which to make mistakes. Feedback rather than chastise mistakes. What you’ll find is that they value being treated as an equal; they appreciate you giving them space to flex their new energies and independence, and will reciprocate this by treating you also as an equal; a supporter, rather than a taskmaster.

2. Listen to them.

Easier said than done; but flex those active listening muscles and see what happens! Challenge yourself if you like, to have at least one conversation a week where you: ask good questions; look them in the eye; have positive body posture; don’t formulate any responses. Just take it all in, absorb all the info and DON’T turn it into advice, ideas or action points!

3. Choose your moment/create your moments.

Nothing says ‘I love you’ like backing off when they are hormonal, not pushing it when they are venting off at you. Understanding adolescence means understanding they will be up and down as they wrestle with new feelings and emotions, gangly bodies and all the confusion and angst that goes with. Play the long game… Carve out moments by being intentional.

4. Choose your location.

Often a sit-down conversation is still a bit too intense for a self-conscious, fidgety teen… My relationship with my eldest benefitted from endless lifts to dancing – sitting side by side is less intense than facing each other yet conducive for chatting. Consider alternatives in order to have quality time one-on-one. Going for a walk, playing cards, something out of the ordinary …a trip? Be creative.

5. Ask open questions.

Remember details they’ve told you.

6. Copious amounts of love and care and kindness required.

Weird advice for parents! But it so often gets lost, even if you do remember to tell them… Show them WITHOUT words or hug!. Make them feel welcome. This is more important than discipline, school grades, tidying/not tidying their room!

Ultimately – understand Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need: if they are hungry, tired, cold, feel awkward etc …then don’t expect deeper things!

Pray for them. Everyday. It’ll help (you).

Joel Toombs is a Firefighter at South Yorkshire Fire and rescue, and writes the mentoring column for Youth and Children’s Work magazine