Teens frequently seem to operate at extremes. Part of the time, they’re angrily yelling at us, and the rest of the time they disappear into a deep silence and won’t let us know what they’re thinking or feeling. It’s hard to say which extreme is more stressful for parents.

There’s a long-used therapy approach for children known as Theraplay that also provides helpful guidance for breaking through those silent times and encouraging a healthier relationship between you and your teen.

The core concept of Theraplay involves four qualities that are essential in developing healthy relationships between parents and their children.

Structure is the first quality. While teens may seem to rebel against any kind of rules, the reality is they appreciate knowing there are limits, and that they’re safe within those limits. It’s up to the parents to create and manage those boundaries. Consistency is important, because it helps teens learn how to self-regulate their behavior.

Engagement involves connecting with the teen in positive ways. Parents should focus intently on their teens and encourage them to enjoy new experiences, while being mindful of how those experiences are affecting the teen’s behavior and emotions.

Nurturing reinforces that the teen is worthy of their parents’ interest and care even when the teen hasn’t asked the parents for support. By nurturing, parents enhance feelings of self-worth, which can calm the teen in anxious situations.

Challenge involves encouraging the teen to stretch out and take risks, with the goal of creating a sense of competence and mastery while providing the structure, engagement, and nurturing that protect the teen.

If you’re not sure of how to apply these concepts to your relationship with your teen, or you’re worried that your relationship has been damaged, consider sitting down with one of our professional counselors. We can help you identify and implement strategies you and your teen can use to create a healthier relationship today and as you both grow older.

Sarah Barksdale is one of Care to Change’s professional team members. A pastor’s wife and therapist, she has worked with teens, young married couples, parents, and those struggling with addictions.