Q: My kids are 15 and 18. I’d like to know how to have mutual respect and trust with them. I’m not sure either of them is very trustworthy, because we often have incidents that undermine my trust. I just thought it would help us to ask your opinion and maybe there are some things I could be doing differently.

A: First, being relational to establish real connection is what matters most. Mutual respect and trust will develop from that — in healthy families, both children and adults are seen, heard and understood. Everyone’s opinions and feelings are supported and respected, regardless of differences. There is a balance of everyone’s needs.

Adolescence is a time of increasing autonomy and separateness; often, more urgency is felt to adopt a unique identity. When parents resist letting go, teens typically push back more forcefully. The process of separating and letting go is not seamless, so listen well to understand their needs, problem-solve together and provide suggestions only when requested. Be accessible for input/feedback without constantly overseeing and evaluating what they’re doing. Let them see you respect them, and expect the same in return. Conflict is an integral part of family life and teaches adolescents valuable lessons as they grow into independence. Compromise and collaboration are necessary, with each person willing to give up something to gain something.

Let them know you genuinely hear them, agreeing: “to make anything work, we need to listen to each other’s perspectives.” Notice what words and behaviors trigger you, undermining authentic connection. Accept and respect their feelings without criticism, judgment or shaming. Focus on win-win outcomes, viewing each challenge as an opportunity for creative solutions. You’ll be more successful establishing trust and respect when you involve your kids in the process, for example: “This is how I see the problem. What’s your view? What can we do about this?”

Adolescence signals separation, with your kids actively distancing themselves, hoping to assume more freedom. It’s possible to have both important needs met: more freedom and autonomy, balanced with parental support and strong connection. If you impose arbitrary rules because you don’t trust them, rather than negotiating and problem-solving together, they become the problem rather than part of the solution. Once you’re polarized, with little or no communication, it will require some healing to build connection again.

Remaining calm, without taking what either of them says or does personally, is important. Understand that what they want is just as important to them as what you want is to you. It doesn’t mean you have to agree, simply that you’re keeping an open mind. It also doesn’t mean you’re giving up your authority. However, it does mean you can change your position if they present a point of view you can accept. Problem-solving together is modeling the skills they’ll need in life. Mutual respect isn’t necessarily mutual agreement. Unconditional acceptance and love in the face of different perspectives and needs is paramount, or they will look for that outside the family. Nurture a strong sense of belonging to themselves and to their family. Trusting their missteps simply as “trial and error,” as practice, and as being more about making poor decisions than as intentional deceptions, will help you approach their behavior with loving connection.

“Action has meaning only in relationship, and without understanding relationship, action on any level will only breed conflict. The understanding of relationship is infinitely more important than the search for any plan of action.” — J. Krishnamurti

Q: My 10-year-old daughter hates being told what to do. She won’t get ready for bed when she’s supposed to, she won’t get ready for school on time, or get off any screen when told to (it takes multiple loud, nagging reminders, whether it’s her iPad or TV). When I eventually get really angry, she gets upset. I’d love for you to tell me how I should handle her, especially since I sometimes have other family members observing me, criticizing and making judgmental comments.

A: I suspect many parents can relate to this. Given what you described, your daughter’s temperament may play a role if she typically has difficulty with transitions. Is it challenging for you to be firm with your daughter in a calm, confident way, staying emotionally disengaged from her behavior? If the dynamic between the two of you is often contentious, is it more so because family members are judging and interfering? Are you blaming your daughter for making you angry and needing to nag? She has apparently learned that she doesn’t need to listen to your reminders until the last one. Be firm, calm and confident the first time you tell her. Avoid engaging in power struggles.

Connect initially to the emotional root of her resistance:

“I know you’d like to stay up later rather than get ready for bed. It’s my job to ensure you get enough sleep to stay healthy.” Although she may still protest, try not to take that personally. Are you putting her needs above your own? Your agenda — her getting ready for school on time; going to bed; shutting down screens — is as important to you as her agenda is to her. It helps to address power struggles when driving in the car, or when things feel more balanced. That’s when you can let her know you’d like to agree on how to make things work better for both of you. Let her know you understand her needs are important: “I get that you’d rather play on the iPad instead of getting ready for school … or going to bed. I’d feel the same way you do. Sometimes we get angry with each other when we can’t get what we want, which doesn’t feel good. What can we do so we both get what we want?” She might reply: “Just let me go to bed (or shut off TV) when I’m ready,” to which you might respond: “I get that that works for you, and that doesn’t work for me.” She will consider the fairness of this approach and be more inclined to find a solution with you.

She needs to trust that this isn’t a struggle she has to lose, which makes finding a solution more appealing. Don’t expect change immediately. Instead, expect that you may need to remind her of your agreement, following through if it fails. She may test it, as it sounds like that’s her temperament. Let her know she has a choice to follow the plan or work together on another one. When you’re consistent, balancing both her needs and yours, she’s more inclined to follow it. Parenting with fairness and logic increases success!

“The easiest way to get your children to listen to you and to learn from you is by connecting with them first.” — Caroline King