In your darker moments as the parent of a teenager, have you secretly worried that your kid is NEVER going to master that whole self-management thing?
Do you have nightmares about having to remind them to take out the trash when they’re 30?
It’s tempting to focus on what’s going wrong – to the point that you and your child start to lose connection. Your only conversations are about what needs to be done, why they haven’t done it and what consequences they will suffer as a result.
You escalate into an argument and it all ends with slamming doors and unkind words. Everything seems out of balance and you don’t know how to course correct.
Well, you’re not alone. We’ve all been there. Here are two strategies for pulling you and your teen back into balance:
1. Notice what’s going RIGHT.
Noticing what’s going right challenges us to focus on strengths and build relationship. One of my favorite mantras from the Positive Discipline program is: connection before correction.
Consider this: if your boss only pointed out all day long what you did wrong, would you stay in that job for very long? Probably you’d find another job!
Well, kids can’t run out and get another set of parents, but they might wish they could if all they hear about is the mistakes they make.
GIVE them A POSITIVE DESCRIPTION OF themselves:
So look carefully to find something positive to notice, and attach a character trait to it: “Thank you for emptying the dishwasher. I appreciate your helpfulness.”
It doesn’t matter if you had to ask three times or if they grumbled the whole time they did it.
When you notice the doing and add the character trait of helpfulness, you give them a positive description of themselves, and an appreciation of their effort.
They will notice that you noticed, and if you keep doing it, they will start to attach positive adjectives to their self-description and you’ll start to see them use those qualities more and more.
Keep it up
Do this three times a day for at least a week, and you will probably see a slight shift in your view of your teen, and hopefully, a shift in your teen’s attitude toward you. Keep doing it, even if you aren’t sure it’s making a difference.
It takes time to build trust in this new way of being, especially if you and your teen have been in conflict for a while.
2. Give your child time IN rather than time OUT.
You know that quality time you really made sure you gave your kids when they were little because all the experts said it was important? Well, that applies to teens, too.
Dr. Laurence Steinberg, in his book Age of Innocence: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence, writes:
“The strongest and most consistent predictor of children’s mental health, adjustment, happiness, and well-being is the degree to which their parents are involved in their lives.”
He adds, “Being an involved parent takes time and hard work, and it often means rethinking and rearranging your priorities. It frequently means sacrificing what you want to do for what your child needs you to do.”
If you have been in extended conflict with your teen, start with being together without having to talk. Watch a TV show or a movie together, say, “Thanks for spending time with me! I love you!” and move on.
Once being together gets a little less stressful, you can do activities that require communication like playing a game or going for a walk or just engaging in short, positive conversations over a meal. And remember: no talking about problems during quality time!
TEENS JUST WANT TO TRY NEW THINGS
The teen years are all about figuring themselves out, trying on different personalities, making new (to them) arguments about what should/shouldn’t be expected (I remember making those, do you?), and taking risks to see where the limits are.
Sometimes, the biggest risk kids take is alienating parents by pushing against the boundaries so hard that it becomes difficult to get back to a loving place.
We absolutely must make sure that they feel loved, no matter what. Without that, we have no solid footing for forward movement and neither do they.
Will these two strategies fix everything and guarantee that your child will stop making poor decisions or giving you attitude? Of course not!
There is no magic wand and perfect kids don’t exist any more than perfect parents do. So you will still need to kindly and firmly enforce boundaries and remember that consistency is king!
What these strategies will do is give you a more balanced perspective and help you grow a stronger connection with your child, so that correction—when it’s needed—becomes more effective.
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