Do you ever feel stuck with your kids? Are you tired of hounding them to do something only to find that you have become the barbaric person you swore you would never be? The volume in the room raises, your voice takes on a gruff “I mean it” tone, your hands are on your hips in a power stance, and then you start with the ultimatums. “If you don’t take care of this right now I’m taking away your phone for a month.” By this time you are practically screaming at your kid and most likely he is screaming back.
You get the picture.
Or, maybe a slightly different scenario plays out in your home. You tell your kid to do something.
You repeat yourself and nothing happens.
This goes on for several days and you do one of two things. You either take care of it yourself or you choose to drop it — and life goes on as if nothing happened. You’ve chosen to not fight the battle because it is too hard, your tired of it, and you aren’t getting anywhere anyway so why bother.
Either outcome is a losing proposition. Loss for you and loss for your child. Both can significantly damage your relationship.
In the first scenario, we lose credibility as an adult. After all, we certainly aren’t acting like an adult who is in control of our emotions and at times our words. What we are modeling for our kids is that when I don’t get what I want I’ll get angry and exercise my authority over you to get it. I’ll take the things away that you love and hopefully you’ll realize that you have nothing and will start doing what I ask you to do. In other words, we exercise control and they respond out of fear.
In the second story-line, we also lose credibility as an adult but in a different way. We teach our kids that they can manipulate us and our words mean nothing. We give them all the power because it’s just easier to throw in the towel to keep peace. The real problem here is that our kids don’t learn to do the chore or follow through with responsibility. They don’t learn to own what is theirs to own.
I don’t know about you but I’ve found myself in both of these situations from time to time. Think of these scenes as two extremes on a pendulum. One extreme is “I will control at all cost and you will do what I ask you to do or else”. The other extreme is “I’m tired of the fight and I recognize that you have more stamina than I do so I give up.”.
So what are the ways we can get beyond these extremes? How can we move toward a home where we don’t have these standoff escapades that damage the relationship? After all, we do want influence over our kids.
Start with respect. Respect for yourself and respect for your teen.
So what does that look like?
- Focus on the relationship before the problem. Talk about the issue with a win/win mentality. Make sure that your child understands that you are both on the same team. You aren’t asking them to clean up their room for you. You are asking them to clean up the room for themselves and for the good of “team family”. One way to start the conversation might go like this: “It won’t be long until you’ll be on your own. One of my jobs as a parent is to help you become successful in the role of an adult. You want that too don’t you?” Camp out here for a little while. Maybe find out what they think being an adult means. Rather than launching into the fact that they need to keep their room clean, you say something like “Why don’t you and I take some time to think about what taking on a more adult role in this family might look like and let’s talk about it next week. One of the things I see with adults is that they have responsibility but they also get freedom with that responsibility. What might that look like as you think about the next few years you have here at home? Maybe we’ll go out for ice cream next week to talk about it. Would you like that?”
- Apologize and admit your struggle in being a parent. If you’ve been a pendulum swinger (like the two scenarios I mentioned), apologize. We don’t always get it right. After all, we didn’t get a parenting manual when our kids were born. We didn’t know what we didn’t know and now its time to push the reset button in how we’ve approached parenting. Let your teen know that you are learning some new skills and that you want to try to be better at respecting them. Let them know that you want to work harder at helping them become adults.
- Listen and validate. My guess is that if you go get that ice cream with your teen you’ll hear all about the “freedom” your kid wants and very little of the responsibility. That’s okay! Just listen, validate their ideas and desires, share stories of when you were their age and wanted those same freedoms. Again, camp out in their world of talk about adulthood. AND be sure to not use the word “but” while they are talking. As parents we often want to discount what they say or make them realize that their ideas are not where we are. “But” says I’m not listening. “But” says I’m right and you are wrong. “But” says I don’t respect your ideas.
- Ask permission to share how you see adulthood. Here’s your chance to finally communicate what you need from your child. If you need them to clean their room, then let them know why that skill is important in becoming an adult. Here are a few things you might want to share: adulthood means that they can take care of themselves and own what is theirs to own; it means that they are part of the team that needs to be responsible for their chores (by the way, if Dad isn’t pitching in somewhere this might be a tough sell). It means when they move to college that they aren’t fighting with their roommate over the mess they’ve made. It means when they get married they don’t expect their spouse to pick up after them. This is their practice time for the future.
- Get buy in. Help your teen understand that with responsibility comes freedom. This is the part they will love. What freedom are they trying to earn? (You probably heard all about it while you were listening to them talk.) If it is something you can give in response to them doing their chores, offer it up. In the room example say something like, “If I see that you are taking responsibility over keeping your room clean, maybe we’ll look at letting you have some friends over on Friday nights to play games (or whatever freedom you want to give). Let’s give it a month or so and see what happens. It’s September now. If by mid-November you are keeping up your end of the bargain, come see me and we’ll talk about it.”
- Pay attention. The hard part of parenting is sometimes taking notice and giving feedback in the interim phase. Give them a high-five when you notice their room is picked up or tell them “good job” on the room. If the room isn’t clean say something like, “I see you are struggling with keeping your room clean, what can I do to help you be successful?” This communicates “I’m here for you. I’m on your team. We both want the same thing–mature adult.” If they are successful over time, be sure to give them their freedom. If not, don’t let them off the hook. Set up another time-bound opportunity and tell them you’ll re-evaluate again in a month. Remember, the goal is their success!
2 Timothy 1:7
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
Dare you to look at how you act when your kids don’t follow through on your requests. If you are reacting at either extreme of the pendulum, try responding with respect for you and your teen. Give freedom for your kid’s success in handling responsibility. If you do, maturity will emerge and there’ll be less frustration as you parent.
“Let go…and Let God”,
Want to learn more about communicating with respect with your tweens and teens? Grab a group of moms and go through our book With All Due Respect: 40 Days to a More Fulfilling Relationship with Your Teens & Tweens or give the book as a Christmas gift to you child’s teacher. Here’s what one mom had to say about it.
Debbie Hitchcock & Nina Roesner, I cannot thank you enough for With All Due Respect! I have decided you guys need a new target market—TEACHERS of Tweens/Teens. The teachers that don’t know how to properly communicate to teens are making it very difficult for this mama.