It can be hard to know how to communicate with your teenage daughter.  This is especially true if your teenage daughter is struggling emotionally or behaviorally.  When this happens it is easy for parents to focus on everything that is going wrong; that is your natural tendency.  Parents can improve communication with their children by applying the principles of positive psychology“The aim of positive psychology is to catalyze change in psychology from a preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building the best qualities in life.” [1]
You can improve family communication using positive psychology by:

  • Being mindful
  • Being grateful
  • Being active

Be Mindful:

Mindfulness is staying in the present.

More specifically, “mindfulness is conscious and conscientious awareness of self, other, and subject.” [2] Mindfulness is particularly helpful when it comes to communicating with your daughter. When you interact with her, put your phone away, turn off the TV, close your laptop and focus on what she has to say. Slow down your conversations and actively identify what:

  • She is saying
  • She is feeling
  • You are feeling
  • You are saying

Mindfulness Helps You Communicate, Not React

So much of our communication is influenced by our previous interactions. If you fought with your daughter the previous night, your communication might be more reactive in the morning. Being mindful helps parents take each event with their child in isolation, which reduces reactivity.

Mindfulness Helps You Set a Good Example

How you communicate is every bit as important as what you are communicating. Modeling mindfulness in your communication sets a good example for your daughter. It tells her that you love and care about her, even if you are holding a strict boundary.

Be Grateful:

Gratitude Gives You Perspective

You are genetically programmed to look for the negative in life. Like a gazelle looking for a lion, you’re genetically trained to scan your life looking for potential dangers. In modern life, this habit translates into focusing on the negative.
When you practice gratitude, it changes our perspective. You train your brain to not only seek out the dangers but to notice the joys in life as well. This new perspective helps you to see the positive in your children. You’re more likely to praise them for cleaning their room or celebrate a good grade they received in school. By practicing gratitude in your life, you will naturally increase the number of positive interactions you have with your daughter.

Gratitude Increases Your Effectiveness

If you show gratitude for what you have and for your children’s efforts, they will be more responsive to your interventions. By showing gratitude to your daughter, you are showing her that you notice her efforts. Then, when you give her guidance, she is much more likely to respond.

Gratitude Takes Practice

Gratitude is a learned activity for most people. It takes practice. Try this routine to make gratitude a habit with your daughter:

  1. Identify– Every evening at dinner or before you go to bed, review the day. Then identify something small that your daughter did that you’re grateful for. This could be as simple as the fact that she held the door for you, or helped you carry in the groceries.
  2. Record– Write down what you are grateful for in a gratitude journal. Sometimes when things get tough, it can be helpful to flip through the journal and reflect on the things you’re grateful for.
  3. Express– Show gratitude to children for the specific small things they do. Tell them at dinner the things you are grateful for. Leave them little notes on their pillow, text them or call them. Show them on a daily basis that you are grateful for something they have done that day.

Be Active

Being Active Improves Your Relationship with Yourself

Being active can help you feel better about your own life and put you in a better emotional place. By having a greater emotional capacity, you’ll be less reactive and better equipped to help your daughter with her emotional struggles.

Being Active Together Improves Your Relationship with Your Daughter

Imagine your relationship with your daughter as an emotional bank account. Every interaction you have with your daughter is either a deposit into that bank account or a withdrawal. Being active together with your daughter provides you opportunities to make deposits into this emotional bank account. This is particularly important when your daughter is struggling behaviorally or emotionally.

Activity Shows that Parents Are Putting Effort into the Relationship

By setting aside time to be active with your daughter, you are telling her she is important. Focus more on making quantity time with your daughter rather than quality time. Even something as simple as going for a walk with your daughter helps her feel valued.

Improving Your Communication

This article shares a lot of great tips to improve communication, but they might not work if you try to implement them all at once. To start, just choose one of these exercises and try it for a month:

  1. Actively focus on 5:1 positive interaction ratio: Whether you are being active or expressing gratitude to your daughter, make sure that you have 5 positive interactions for every “constructive” interaction. This will make sure your emotional bank account is full enough to have the hard conversations when you need to.
  2. Gratitude Journal- Keep a daily journal and reference either 3 good things your daughter did that day. Or, you can just write a short journal entry about a positive experience you had with your daughter that day that you’re genuinely grateful for.

It is easy to become negative and critical of our children. If we apply positive psychology principles in our lives and parenting, our relationships with our children will improve. And as our relationships improve, our communication will improve.


  1. Meditation and Positive Psychology
  2. Positive Psychology of Mindfulness

Dr. Ben Belnap is a Clinical Director at Sunrise Residential Treatment Center
Dr. Ben Belnap, Clinical Director at Sunrise Residential Treatment Center