building a healthy relationship with your young person

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Watching a child you care about grow into adulthood can be a rewarding experience.

You get to see them develop their own opinions, cultivate new skills and engage with the world more deeply. But for some young people, these rapid changes can be challenging.


Why is the relationship with your young person shifting?

What a young person may need from a parent or guardian changes as they grow and develop. When children are younger they need a lot of assistance and direction with many of their daily tasks. But as they enter adolescence young people need to make more decisions on their own, and this can be a challenging transition for the adults who care for them.


Common challenges for young people entering adolescence

Things are changing in many domains of a young person's life as they move through childhood and into young adulthood.  There are physical changes but there are also social, emotional and behavioural changes, and their brains are changing too.

Conflict can be common during this time. Young people are going through the process of building their independence, which includes negotiating some challenges and situations for themselves for the first time. This can often include some mistakes along the way, which may be frustrating to watch. You might have certain ideas and goals in mind for their future but these could be very different to what your young person wants in life.

Young people may experience more moodiness, irritability or frustration, and they can often feel strong emotions. They might also express their happiness, sadness, love, fears and anger with more intensity than before.

It’s normal for young people to take risks and push boundaries. It can be an important part of becoming independent young adults – creating their own identity and having a need for independence. It can include staying out late, experimenting with alcohol and other drugs, or dressing in ways you don’t approve of.

How to support your young person

Although young people need to gradually become more independent from the adults in their lives they still have a great need for love, nurture and guidance. Adults can support their young person’s health and development by being there for them and helping them to build the skills they need to thrive in the future.

All young people need a safe place to call home, where they can be themselves and feel relaxed and valued. A supportive family can make a big difference to how well a young person adjusts to the challenges of adolescence.

Finding ways to remind your young person how much they’re loved becomes even more important if conflict becomes more common. It’s important that they know you’re there for them and are available to hear their concerns and issues.

Prioritising quality time together is always important. It maintains a positive connection and keeps the door open for meaningful discussions to happen. Showing interest in things your young person is interested in and finding activities you can do together helps build and maintain strong relationships.

Conversations with young people aren’t always easy. Picking a suitable time can help. Find a time when your young person is happy and relaxed, not when they are tired, irritable or when there has been recent conflict.

Most young people respond better to informal chats. Try having smaller conversations more often. You could find an activity you both enjoy and engage in conversation then. A chat while driving or walking can also help your young person feel more comfortable – try to avoid sitting face-on as it can make it harder for people to open up and feel relaxed.

Be alert to times when your young person is trying to talk with you and take the time to understand what they want or are trying to communicate. Be empathic to their situation and concerns. Listen openly and attentively. Like all of us, young people need to feel heard and understood.

How to support your young person through tough times

Young people can sometimes become overwhelmed by the intensity of their emotions and may not have yet developed the skills to manage them. A young person’s brain is a very active place. The parts of the brain that control feeling are firing up, but the parts that help them to think, calm down, control impulses and cope with feelings haven’t yet fully developed. Knowing how to respond when your young person is experiencing intense emotions can help.

Offering validation of your young person’s emotions helps ensure they feel heard and understood. For example you could say ‘you seem really sad’.

Most people struggle to think things through rationally when they’re feeling an intense emotion. This is especially true for young people. Times of intense emotions are not the ideal moments to teach a valuable lesson. Instead, offer validation and allow things to calm down.

No matter the situation, it can help to take a deep breath before you respond. This will also show your young person how to react when their emotions are intense.  

Having clear boundaries helps young people feel safe and it teaches them that their actions have consequences. However, it can sometimes be tough to set these boundaries without creating conflict.

‘Natural consequences’ can help. For example if your young person loses a valuable item you could ask them to replace it themselves. Doing this with empathy is important – be supportive but avoid bailing them out.

Providing options can also help when conflict arises. For example, if your young person wants to go to a party you could discuss curfews and provide different options for them getting home safely. You might seek their input on what they think is fair. Including your young person in the decision-making can help them to feel heard and understood.

Giving your young person some space and privacy shows that you trust them. Think about what you really need to know in order to keep them safe. You might need to know where they are but not what they have discussed with their friends. Resist the urge to go through their belongings unless you have safety concerns.

Notice when things have gotten heated. Take a step back and allow both of you the chance to calm down. Suggest you take some time apart and then come back when you are both feeling calm. Take a ‘you and me versus the problem approach’ and remember to choose your words carefully – harshly spoken words can’t be taken back and can cause lasting hurt. Listen and validate your young person’s feelings.  Try tagging in another adult if you find that you’re continuing to clash.

There will always be times and conversations that don’t go according to plan. Take the opportunity when things are calmer to apologise and reconnect. Connection is key to building a healthy and ongoing relationship with your young person.

Access further help and support

If you or your young person are in need of further support, visit eheadspace (online and phone support) or your nearest headspace centre.

You can also talk to your GP about options for family counselling.


Other useful resources

  • Parentline is a confidential and free telephone counselling and advice service.
  • Raising Children Network is an online resource for parents and carers filled with tips and tools for raising both young people and children.
  • ReachOut has resources to help under 25s and their parents through tough times.
  • headspace Group Chats hosts many discussions for family and friends with a range of topics. You can register to join or view the transcripts here.




The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.

Last reviewed 10/12/2019

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