This article is by our resident school counselor at Radical Parenting. Check out her bio and other articles or submit a question at School Counselor’s Corner: Q&A with Dr. A.
When your children were small, you got to make the majority of the decisions for them. Whether directly (“you’ll eat what’s on your plate because it is good for you!”) or through indirect coercion (“why don’t you invite Johnny over to play, he’s nice”), our role as parents is to foster our child’s development, protect them from the harms of the world, and ensure they have the best chance for success, health, and happiness in life. Despite our love of their innocence and purity, our children will inevitably grow and mature (hopefully), and new parenting challenges will emerge.
During this metamorphosis, our tender little sweethearts will begin to spread their wings, test your limits, and assert their independence as they transition from a baby lamb into, well, a stubborn and, at times, difficult mule. First, let me assure you that the majority of adolescents go through this stage. To feel better about it, I often tell parents that their child wouldn’t be “normal” if they didn’t give you a little push back every now and again. Who wants a pushover for a child? Okay, put your hands down and let’s get serious. So, how do you get back to the happy days, so that interacting with your child is not a daily battle? Try a few of these suggestions below and see if you can’t increase your ability to get a long successfully!
1) Know your child – Know how and when to pick your battles. Remember, just like adults, kids have bad days too. If your child appears in a rotten mood, this may not be the moment to get on them about cleaning their room. I’m not saying you need to let them get away with not doing their share or fulfilling their roles around the house, but you do need to know when is a good time to discuss their responsibilities. Maybe this is the night that you just leave them a sticky note reminder versus saying, “How many times do I have to remind you to clean that darn room?” or maybe this is the day you decide to let it go. Finding a balance between instilling responsibility, being an incredibly annoying nag, and presenting ourselves as a rational, flexible human being is sometimes a fine line, but one worth walking if you want some peace in your household. Focus on winning the war, not each battle!
2) They hear you – really well! – Believe it or not, your word is still stronger than anyone else in his or her life. I know it seems like they ignore you, but they really are listening, so KEEP TALKING! This doesn’t mean you need to stand on a soapbox and spout out your greatest life lessons every chance you get. That would be boring for any of us, but do be empathic and show an understanding of what they are going through. Besides, most of the time our kids don’t want us to solve their problems, they just want to process the situation with us.
My suggestion is to ask questions to keep them communicating, particularly on how they plan to work things out. As parents, we so often want to protect our kids from every issue, that we deny them the chance of figuring it out themselves. If we save them now, they will surely fail later. Problem solving is incredibly empowering, so see what they can come up with. Discuss life lessons by asking about their perspective on various issues. Then you can offer up your view as well when the moment is right. Talk to them with respect, even if you have differing views on a topic, and hopefully, you will find they will follow suit.
3) Do you hear them? – This doesn’t mean just their words, but their body language too. Cue into what their interests are and listen – hard. They have so little control and an awful lot of ideas. This set up can lead to frustration and push back, so when you can give in – do it! Let them make the easy decisions, so when it comes to the hard ones – you can put your foot down and feel confident about it. Your child will know this is an important topic for you since you are asserting yourself in their best interest. Warning – this doesn’t mean they will like your decision, but they may learn to respect your authority if it isn’t being abused.
If your child is looking down, I highly recommend that you NOT start in on your child about problems when you first pick them up from school. Start by opening up conversation and finding out more about their day. The more information you have about their current state of mind, the better decisions you can make about how to confront them with other issues. Information is power and your child holds the only key to the safe, so keep those communication lines open!
4) Find the Good, the Shared and the Positive – Set aside time for quality activities that typically bring about good times. Go for a bike ride, see a movie, play a board game together – anything that brings a smile to your faces. Sharing positive moments together makes the harder times less painful because you have a foundation to fall back on. We all know we will have bumps in the road; it is how we navigate those bumps that matter. As they get older, I know finding common ground seems difficult, so once in a while try things their way; text or tweet your child, listen to a band that they are really into, or play their favorite video game. You’ll be surprised how many points you can earn just by trying something new.
5) Mutual Respect – This is so important! Believe it or not, their issues are just as important as yours. It may seem silly to us as adults, but not being invited to prom, failing a physics exam, or falling out with your social group can be devastating. Remember, this is THEIR world and in THEIR world, these issues are top priorities. It is easy as overworked, bill-paying, children-feeding, carpool-driving adults to trivialize their concerns and say, “You think you have it bad, just wait until you’re an adult,” but the truth is that comment doesn’t help our relationship with our kids. They just want us to hear them, feel for them, and support them no matter what they are going through. Remember, they are still just kids (even though their chronological age may be catching up with them) and they don’t have adult responsibilities yet for a reason. They need guidance and you are just the person to give it to them.
I hope you find these tips helpful. Parenting is without a doubt the most challenging and rewarding role of our lives. My goal is to help you enjoy the journey, build great relationships, and develop amazing children of character. Please take a moment to provide feedback, submit a question, or suggest a topic for my next article at School Counselor’s Corner: Q&A with Dr. A.