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Stop Trying to Control Your Teen

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Our children go through many stages while growing up, but as parents, there are three distinct roles that parents have during this time.

• From birth until about age 7 (when our kids go from learning to read, to reading to learn) our role is to be their “teacher”. We teach them to talk and walk, read and write, and we teach them how to live in our society.

• From then until they hit puberty, our role shifts to become their “manager”. We manage their schedule ~ appointments, activities, school work ~ we oversee their lives. For many parents, this is their favorite time. They get to be in charge and their kids still like them.

• When most kids hit puberty, they fire their manager and they become “unmanageable”. This is the time when our role as parent changes again. At this age, our children are ready to begin the arduous journey of learning to become adults. Our job is to help them learn how to do this. Now we get to become a resource for them. We get to be their “mentor” (read: “Learn how to become your teenagers ‘life coach’”).

Sounds simple right? Why doesn’t it happen that way? Why do teenager’s have a reputation for being so darn difficult? When you were a teen, did you have someone who mentored you into adulthood? For most of us, the answer to that is a resounding “NO”. Parents have a tendency to “parent the way we were parented” so how would we know that a shift in our role is even possible? Most of us do what our parents did ~ try harder to control our kids. But…the harder we try to control them, the more they resist…the more unmanageable they become. They become “difficult” to deal with and pretty soon, they have even stopped talking to us and roll their eyes, grunt, sigh, or show some other sign of disgust whenever we try to talk to them.

In the coming weeks we will explore some ways to begin to shift this relationship as you move into your changing role as your teenager’s mentor and life coach. In the meantime, here are some ideas (that will be expanded on in the next post) to consider:

Kids learn respect by being treated with respect. Treat them with the kind of respect that you want to be treated with. You set the standard (and the example) that you expect them to comply to.

Pay attention to the way you talk to/treat your kid. Ask yourself, “How would I feel if someone talked to/treated me this way?” If your answer is, “I wouldn’t like it,” chances are, your kid doesn’t like it either.

NEVER engage in a power struggle with your teenager (most parents don’t even win power struggles with their 2 year olds). We’ll talk about how to get out of power struggles next week.

Want more practical tips and techniques? My next workshop starts May 24, 2011. Get the details and register on my Upcoming Workshops page.

End the “Food Fight” with your kids (part one)

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We’re having WHAT for dinner?

I recently went to Portland to visit my son and his family. While we were talking, he shared with me the frustrations at dinnertime that he has with his 10-year-old stepson. My son is an excellent cook and an adventurous eater. His stepson, not so much…his tastes are a bit more limited, as with most kids his age. Dinner times are becoming…a “food fight”. A time of frustration, hurt feelings, and power struggles. It’s not easy to step into the role of a “step” parent…or to be the “step” kid. I asked my son for permission before sharing a few strategies.

  1. If you are dishing out the food, start with age appropriate portions, and the minimum of each food that you expect your child to eat before having seconds or dessert. Too much food on a child’s plate can be overwhelming to them. Also, in this day and age of “supersize” everything, it is important for them (and us too) to know what a “portion” size is. Here’s a good visual of portion sizes.
  2. Once the food is served, it is your child’s food. STAY OUT OF IT!  Do not beg, bargain (“Just eat 3 more bites of this…and you can have more of that…”) or try to control what or how much they eat. The way to stay out of this is: Have an understood rule that they can have more of what they want when they have eaten what is on their plate.
  3. Always talk about what they CAN have, not what they CAN’T have. “You can have more meatloaf when you have eaten what is on your plate.” vs “You can’t have more meatloaf until you eat your peas.” When you phrase it in the positive, it puts your child at choice and allows you to step out of the power struggle.
  4. Then…(and this is the hardest part) shut up and let them choose. Do NOT say, “You know the rule about having more.” If they choose not to finish what is on their plate, don’t get to have seconds, and would rather go hungry than eat their peas, don’t feel guilty. Respect their choice. They will not starve before the next meal. And never say, “I told you you’d be hungry later.” If they don’t already know this, it’s time they figured it out. Like I said….”The hardest part”…
  5. When they do eat their meal, don’t make a big deal out of that either. Children don’t need to be praised for eating. Focus on the quality of relationship that you now enjoy during the meal since you have stopped battling about food with your kids.
  6. When the meal is over, it’s over. Don’t hold the food for the next meal. Don’t talk about how “last night you chose not to eat…” Each meal starts fresh with new food, same rule.

Remember ~ Laughter aids digestion. Food is the way we nourish our bodies. Relationships are how we nourish our soul. Keep mealtime conversation and interactions as pleasant as possible. Enjoy the food. Focus on the relationship.

Want more practical tips and techniques? My next workshop starts May 24, 2011. Get the details and register on my Upcoming Workshops page.