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Category Archives: working with parents

When Good Kids Say Mean Things…How to Not Take it Personally

One of the things I frequently hear when working with parents is, “If I had talked to my parents the way my kid talks to me, I’d have been grounded for the rest of my life.” Sound familiar? Kids these days are gutsy and say things that most of us would never have dared to say to our parents.

Parents ask, “Why is that? Why do they talk like that? How do they get away with it?”  If we realize that any control we have over our child is an illusion, I think it is of more value to ask, “How can we do things differently and get better results?”

When the relationship is contentious, I always recommend that, emotionally, parents step back far enough to not get battered by the things their kids say to and about them. The trick is to find the balance so that you don’t step back so far that you lose connection. So how do you do that?

  • Take your sail out of their wind ~Allow them to blow themselves out while you avoid getting battered by their wind. Walk away. Let them know you will be back when things are calmer. Do NOT say, “When YOU are calm.” This just escalates their feelings. No good will come from that.
  • Do NOT engage with them if they are being mean or dis-respectful. YOU need to set the precedent. Re-engage as soon as the attitude changes. Do not hold a grudge. Focus on the behavior you want.
  • Do not take them places, do things for them, or buy them things when they are being/have been rude and disrespectful. It is important, when you talk to them about what you are not doing, you tell them in a way that is firm but kind. If you threaten them  or are mean when you state your limits and boundaries,  they just see you as being mean and they get mean back.
  • Underneath any misbehavior is an unmet need…usually that need is for connection and relationship. Consider spending one-on-one time with your teen.

By the time kids leave home, most parents I know have some regrets; some “I wish I woulda…when I had the chance.” In the moment, it is hard to know what things will stay with us as the years go by. Two common regrets are:

1.  “I always wish that I had spent more time with my kids when they were at home…now I have to travel to be with them.”  I’ve never met a parent who has said, “Gosh. I really regret that I spent so much time with my kids when they were younger.”

2. “I wish I would have learned not to take things personally.” Hurt feelings and big emotions really get in the way of communication and relationship.

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Ask REALLY GOOD questions (so your teen will talk to you)

When you ask your teenager questions, do you get the standard responses of: “Yeah.” “No.” “Fine.” “Nothing.” “I don’t know.”

If you are the parent of a teen, you probably know exactly what questions elicit those responses. One parent told me, “Any of those responses would be an upgrade from what we get…all we get is a grunt.”

Have you tried everything you can think of to get an actual answer from your teen? Are you wondering, “What does it take to ask questions that elicit a response?” It’s not that easy to just start asking good questions. It takes practice.

When my kids were teenagers and I was thinking about this I realized that if my kids talked
to me, I would have an opportunity to know what was going on in their lives. And if they listened to me I would have an opportunity to be an influence.

I realized that if my kids were going to talk to me they would have to feel safe. They would have to trust me to be able to:

  •         really hear what they were saying, without putting my own spin on it
  •         respect their opinion
  •         not use that information to become suspicious of them
We WANT to hear the good stuff. We NEED to be able to hear the hard stuff.
To that end, I promised my kids that they could talk to me about anything…and that I would always do my best not to let them see how freaked out I was by the things they were telling me. We were able to laugh about that. Then they began to test the water, starting with the easy things before, eventually, trusting me to hear the hard things.

So how do you ask the kinds of questions that actually begin a conversation with your teenager? These are the kinds of questions that elicit a response rather than shut down the conversation. 

  • First of all, your kids need to know that it is safe to talk to you and that they can trust you.
  • Tone of voice is one of the most important things. You can change curiosity into scorn or shame just with your tone of voice even if you use the very same words. Be VERY careful with your tone of voice.
  • You can ask them to share (“Tell me about that”) how they came to their beliefs — as long as you aren’t trying to change those beliefs…only to understand them.
  • When you are able to listen respectfully (without interrupting, interpreting, or intervening) your kids have an opportunity to listen to themselves. As they listen to themselves, they have an opportunity to think about (and question) their own beliefs. Give them time and encouragement to do that.
  • Before you tell them what you think, ask them if they would like some feedback? If you can offer some input? If they say “no”, accept it. “Okay. Let me know if you change your mind.” (Think about this: How many of the things you tell your teen are things that you have already told them? Many times?)
  • Remember that  judgment, criticism, embarrassment, or shame will end the conversation.
  • Ask yourself… “How would I feel if someone was talking to me the way I am talking to my kid?” If the answer is, “I wouldn’t like it,” chances are your kids don’t like it either. Now is your opportunity to upgrade how you communicate so you can say, “Yes. I would feel respected if I was talked to like this.”

(Next week we will explore what happens when there is a break in communication…and how to repair it.)

Want more tips and hints? Check out “Upcoming Workshops” or “Problems with Teens”.

Implement Those New Parenting Skills

I spend a lot of time working with parents to help them learn new skills. I share the skill, the application, the benefit (what your child learns–how this skill applies to life lessons). I give them a handout detailing use and steps and then coach them about how they might use and incorporate this skill. They are excited and inspired!!!

When we meet the following week and I ask how it went, they say they “Didn’t have a chance to use it” or they lost their temper and just “Did what I always do” or “The dog ate my handout.”

Incorporating news skills is challenging. And “If nothing changes, nothing changes” right?

One day I was having coffee with my friend Kirstan Eventyr (who is an amazing person and wonderful resource. Check her out at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kirstin-Eventyr-MA/134149666657980) and she was sharing stories about parenting her young children. She told me about something that she calls a “Do Over”. Whenever she dealt with her kids in a way she wished she hadn’t, she would go to them and tell them she needed to have a Do Over.

I loved the idea of having an opportunity to try again. I thought of how many times I had walked away from my kids shaking my head and thinking, “I can’t believe I did/said/reacted like that…again.” I realized that we all need a Do Over from time to time.

I began to share Kirstan’s “Do Over” with my clients and realized what an powerful learning tool this could be.

Now I share the Do Over concept as a way to help parents move from theory to practice. Here’s what makes it challenging to change. You walk away from an encounter with your kid and think, “Oh yeah. I was going to try that new thing. Well…next time I’ll do that.” But “next time” never happens because the next time the situation arises, we do the same thing again and think (again), “Next time.”

Now’s your chance to change things this time!

Here is how the Do Over helps change theory to practice:

  • Take a break and get calm.
  • Decide/remember/review what new skill you wanted to practice using.
  • Apologize if necessary, but keep it light and friendly.  For example, “I’m sorry. That really wasn’t the way I wanted to handle that situation.”
  • Tell them you want a “Do Over” (Or maybe, “I’d like to try that again.”)
  • Practice your new skill.
  • Afterwards evaluate, “What worked? What didn’t? How do I want to do it next time?”
  • (You can use it to clean up any situation–with or without new skills practice.)
Here are the benefits:
  • With practice you get to actually learn those new skills (not just think about them.)
  • You have the opportunity to create positive interactions with your teen and begin to build a different way of relating to each other.
  • You show your teen “I’m not perfect” and “It’s okay to make mistakes”…especially if we learn from them/clean them up. (Don’t worry about admitting the “not perfect” part. They already know it.)
  • You teach your teen how to take responsibility and make amends. (“Here’s how to clean up the mistake I made.”)
So give it a try! Practice it!  Have fun with it! Have fun with your kids!