Now there’s a question every parent has asked, under many situations and circumstances, and in many contexts.
It’s interesting that it’s routine for expectant parents to take birthing classes, but classes on parenting that child are far less common.
I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve learned a few things during my career (and I’ve learned the hard way – by being a parent).
We’ve all been there: It shouldn’t be, but it is often quite trying talking to our tweens or teens about anything and everything – curfews, turning off their devices, coming down for dinner, homework, getting up in time for school. So often (and so frustrating), the responses are blank stares, eye rolls, arguments, anger. That these may be common adolescent behaviors doesn’t mean they’re easily dealt with.
Why do our otherwise sweet kids act like this? The glib answer is, “Because they can.”
The deeper and enlightening answer is that as children start coming into their own, they want, and indeed need, to have a sense of empowerment. The problems arise when they seek this sense of power through negative attitudes and behaviors like refusing to listen, refusing to comply, being oppositional.
The problems can persist when children begin to realize that no one can force them to listen, to pay attention, to comply – that how they behave is entirely in their own control. And as they learn what pushes our buttons, well, they push them until they “win.”
The single and most fundamental thing for a parent to realize (and to internalize) is that – for both child and parent – it’s far more healthy and beneficial (and sanity saving), whatever the immediate issue is, it should not be felt and dealt with as a conflict, as a power struggle.
If you’re feeling that you’re in a win or lose fight, then you’ve already lost. Engaging in arguments, getting into power struggles, coercing compliance – these simply result in more resistance, and things can spiral out of control.
So, paradigm shift:
As long as you know that what you want your child to do is reasonable, just state clearly what it is. Focus only on the topic, keeping it short and sweet.
Do not engage in any debate about it with your child; doing so leaves room for hope that they can change it. Be ready to simply disengage and walk away. Resist second guessing your decision.
If your child seems to be ignoring you and doesn’t respond, so be it. Don’t demand a response – you know you were heard.
Don’t take it personally and demand respect. Whether obvious or not, the child does (even if reluctantly at first) respect that you are doing your job as the parent.
Yes, it may be easier said than done, but you can control your reactions and responses to your child’s arguing, whining, ignoring you. You may fail at this at first, but after only a few, or even only one or two, successes, the aggravating and dysfunctional dynamic changes.
It may not, at first, be easy to devise and enforce reasonable consequences for the child’s failure to comply with your rule or request, but soon enough the consequences will follow naturally, becoming inherent in the situation.
Consequences are not punishments. That means, importantly, you are relieved of continually trying to devise punishments after the fact. For example: Be home by 9:30 or you won’t be able to use the car in the morning to go to school.
Soon, conversation replaces argument, and both you and the child will be able to have normal discussions about your rules – which themselves become merely natural ways the family works – and it becomes much easier to amend things when such change is reasonable.
I hope this short discussion alone may be of some help to you, but if you would like or need further help about this or other parenting issues, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me at Dream Big, 404-702-2524, ext. 103 for counseling or coaching.
Laura Greenberg is a licensed clinical social worker with 30+ years’ experience counseling parents of children with emotional, behavioral, or developmental issues.