Episode 64: Co-Creating a Healthy Parent-Child Relationship

In this episode of The Family Couch, we talk with Laura Reagan about how to help our children, specifically teens, co-create a better relationship with us.

We jump in and discuss the sociological perspective of teens and their development.  Reagan believes we need to look at the concept of childhood. It wasn’t long ago that children got up early and went to work in factories and mines, etc.  Social workers began as caregivers and mentors to feed and take care of kids during this time. We now believe that childhood needs to be a protective time where we socialize kids to enter the workforce.  Kids are talked to and not with, with a lot of top-down communication. Reagan believes kids are co-creating culture with us–they are not just passive participants. Often their definitions of what’s going on in the adult world are different from reality or what we want them to think.

Reagan loves the conscious parenting movement.  The premise is that the child is a unique individual with their own gifts and soul.  Whether it’s conscious or not, we co-create the way we “do family.” You honor that the child has needs and your job is to take care of the child, but the child also acts upon you and this influences you as well.  With conscious parenting and the sociology of childhood, you are honoring the fact that this social being is also acting on you. It’s as simple as asking which shirt you want to wear. There is a willingness to engage the child about their choices.  This all hits a climax in adolescence because of puberty and hormones, as well as the parents’ viewpoint turning toward the future. Reagan believes it is important to find your own unique parenting style. The relief to a parent of a teen can be that you don’t have to do it forever and you are parenting toward something.  You can ask what kind of things you can do to help the teen get there. You can ask things like, “Who’s your best friend?”, “What are your interests?”, or, “What turns you on at school?”

We next discuss what happens when your teen has ideals and opinions that are different from yours.  Reagan believes that it is important to be present and identify the emotions you are feeling. She even has a feelings list to help verbalize the feelings.  One of the skills she feels is important for parents to have is “I” messaging. When your child says something you aren’t sure about, you can say, “That makes me a little scared, but it doesn’t mean it’s wrong for you.  I’m just letting you know where I’m coming from. Let me think about it for a little while and figure out how we can do it together.” You can be real and let them know how you feel. There are some things that are just unacceptable.  For Reagan, she provides examples of her telling her children to not drink alcohol or put themselves in risky situations. She had a verbal contract where she told them they could call at any time and she’d come get them. She promised there would be no immediate repercussions.  Reagan feels it is important to check in with yourself and process the feelings with your child.

We discuss that people looking in from the outside may look at this like you are trying to be your child’s friend.  Reagan said she did get this some. She handled this by telling her children she was clearly not their friend. There are some things that she did not want to hear about.  Reagan believes you stand for how you “do family.” This may not work for everyone and that’s okay. At the same time, Reagan reflects some of the cultural norms of society because the kids will have to enter that world.  She gives an example of saying, “If you go to that job interview dressed like that, you may not get the result you want. I respect your individuality but this is how the world may see you.” Reagan provides that in sociology there is a concept of a “front stage” and a “back stage.”  With the front stage, you aren’t performing or being fake–you have to honor that other people are co-creating, too.

Because you respect your child’s “person,” they can respect yours.  This takes you being conscious and aware of yourself. If you feel disrespected, you say it.  If her daughters were too upset, she let them take a break and she didn’t chase after them. Eventually, one would end up apologize and they’d get back to normal.  In Reagan’s book, she provides communication skill guidance. The bedrocks of these skills are active listening, “I” messaging, and open-ended questions. Sometimes things get too heated if you are both passionate about something.  Reagan has written letters in this circumstance to be able to take time and slowly communicate. Reagan’s daughter has texted before and said she did not want to talk on the phone because she needed to think about what to say. When you are practicing engaged, conscious co-creation, social media can be a positive tool.

We talk about what a parent should be expecting as a goal for the co-creation with their teenager.  Reagan used to think it was a child graduated from college with a great job. Honoring the “person” means that the child gets to choose.  Reagan feels that it is a privilege to participate in this but you have to remember that your child didn’t come here to be you–they came here to be them.  The end-goal is a person that can find their way in the world. In both sociology and psychology there is something called resilience training. Life gets difficult, and they don’t have fully developed brains to figure everything out.  The end game is the ability to have tools that they can use in any situation. Reagan wanted her daughters to be able to ask for help when they need it.

If a parent is dealing with a child that is not making healthy decisions and the parent is not sure how to get them back into healthy decision making, Reagan recommends relying on the power of the relationship.  She recommends honoring the child and respecting that they are experimenting with new choices and friends, but letting them know you are scared. Children want to be able to engage with us even though it seems like they may not want to.  You can say, “I am scared for you because I don’t want you to have an unexpected pregnancy.” Another example is, “This relationship that you are vested in is not one that reflects our family values.” Reagan thinks that ultimately what we have is the power of our relationships.

We finally discuss what a parent can do if they want to start laying the foundation for co-creating with their teen.  Reagan recommends talking in the car. This is time where you aren’t looking at each other, which is non-threatening to teens.  Reagan had a game she’d play on short trips called “20 Questions.” She started this when her daughters were little and it grew as they got older.  It is powerful to have this level of exchange. Being willing to hear how the kids are processing the world instead of teaching, you can get very juicy information.  Kids are more willing to hear you this way, too. Reagan wants parents to know that you should be willing to share your stories–even the hard ones. This doesn’t mean you need to go into major details, but sharing the emotional content and what it was like for you is helpful.  In Reagan’s own research and focus groups, she learned four things: teens hear adults when they are doing fun activities, teaching them a skill, present in a time of crisis, or helping them solve problems.



Laura Reagan is a mom who survived the teen years and lived to tell about it.  She has a book called How to Raise Respectful Parents, which was written “to teens” and approaches adult culture from a teen perspective.  The book features scripts for parents and teens. Reagan has a Master’s Degree in Sociology and specializes in parent coaching.



WEBSITE:  http://www.lauralreagan.com/

BOOK:  How to Raise Respectful Parents on Amazon


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