My Thirteen Tips for Parenting
Your Strong-Willed Teen
Your Strong-Willed Teen
Strong willed teen giving you fits?
Looking for that magical thing that will make everything all better?
I don't have the answers, but I think I'm doing pretty well with mine... (well, TODAY I feel this way anyway...) I think about this so often. Figuring out the best way to parent this child has been a full time job for me, trying to help her to grow up to live a healthier and happier life. It's not easy and both of us struggle with it...because it matters to us.
Actually I'm so grateful that my daughter is strong-willed. I was a mousy teen. Wishy-washy is how I thought of myself. So while I was pregnant with The Doctor, I frequently heard myself saying that I wanted a strong-willed child, a child just like my sister, I would say. Well...I got one!
So, to me the term "strong-willed" is not a pejorative. It is a challenge!
Of course, there are no magic bullets in the parenting game, but I have figured out a few things in how to parent this child who is strong-willed.
The way our parents raised us, that last generation, would not bring this child up to be healthy or happy. That authoritative parenting that I grew up with would, I think, make my child either a bullying tyrant or an extremely insecure mouse who doubts herself. I didn't want my daughter to be either one of these...
A parent's dream, to avoid the negative stereotypes with their beloved children.
I've learned a few lessons as I've traveled this path with my daughter. For example, a token economy-type arrangement does not work with the strong-willed child. Bonobo: He's thrilled to "earn" good points. The Doctor couldn't care less! She laughs at the idea. She is not so lame that I can buy her cooperation. Oh no. Not this kid.
I have also learned that my teen doesn't like to argue with me, although it certainly seems so at times. Conflict with me leads her to feel misunderstood and devalued. She far prefers to feel capable, respected, and loved. I think being heard and being understood, in fact, are the major goals of her life right now. If she could accomplish these things without the drama, I'm sure she would do it.
Another lesson I have learned is that those teen years don't necessarily have to be about teens "growing away" as they grow up. You can continue to experience delight and joy with your teen as long as your relationship with your teen stays strong (or gets repaired.) Although our culture tends to disrespect a close parent/teen bond, each family has it in their power to create a family of their own definition. Allow your teens to direct their own lives, learning, healthy activities, and passions just as much while they are teens as you did when they were little ones. Celebrate with them. Be sensitive to their feelings. Acknowledge their struggles. Enter into difficult but honest conversations. Learn new ways of dealing with their growing and questioning minds. Support their journey. It means evolving as a parent.
As The Doctor has grown up, I have worked hard to figure out the best ways to parent my daughter. I have these few hard-won truths that underlie my philosophical approach to being the best parent I can be for her. I have a few truths that I have had as a starting point when feeling like I am in a muddle, which happens often these days. Those "truths" include:
- Say "Yes" - Unless a thing is unhealthy, unsafe, or unethical, I want to be able to tell my children "yes" as much as possible. Why? Because I want my kids to know that they can make choices and to live with those choices. In general, I still stand behind this. But I have regretted it on occasion.
- Expect her to treat others kindly - Under no circumstances is it okay to victimize another person or to make them subservient.
- Avoid punishment and grounding - In almost every case, this type of parenting merely sets up a negative feedback loop. The teen feels misunderstood and sits and stews in those feelings. Talking a crisis through is a better way of encouraging a teen to work through the overwhelming emotions. Almost no teen ever went into a grounding without also slamming a door. At least mine never has!
- Be honest - As long as my children are honest with me about mistakes, I always give some leeway in consequences. And my honestly with them lets them know I trust and respect them.
- Always model mature behavior - Regardless of how pissed off I am, I seldom go off on my daughter. I have raised my voice, but I know that she uses my increased volume as a sign to increase her own. If I need a time out, I take one.
- Involving The Doctor in decisions about her life does not take away my authority, but it shows her that I respect her opinions and needs and that I think she has a great deal to offer.
- View "Defiance" as a problem with the relationship in that moment - rather than as an issue with someone's personality. At this point think about how to improve the relationship. Just stop, take a breath, and remind yourself that winning a battle with your teen always sets you up to lose what’s most important: the relationship. Not surprisingly, my daughter is always aware of this transition in an interaction and she transitions as well.
- Recognize she is feeling out of control - At the moments of her worst outbursts and behavior, I know she is feeling either out of control, painted into a corner, or in a "down" position. At any one moment, she is doing the best she can so I have to be aware of these meta messages and make changes accordingly.
- Our relationship matters - I have this advantage, there is no doubt that our relationship means a great deal to both of us. Some parents may not have this advantage. The Doctor is tough, it is true. But I know that, no matter how hard she makes things, as some point she will always come to me, apologize, and be able to talk and think again.
- Reinforce the desired behavior - Without fail, expecting a child to learn from negative consequences will not produce the desired behavior. We all know this.
So, without further ado, and after much thought, here are my thirteen tips for dealing with my strong-willed teen. I don't claim that they are miracles, but I do claim that these tips can improve even the most difficult of parent/teen relationships. It all begins with the relationship:
- Remember that thing about how we are our child's inner voice? The way I talk to my daughter will become how she talks to herself. If I am harsh with her, she will take that inside. If I am gentle, yet firm, she will learn to let herself off of the hook when she feels stuck inside, even when she needs limits and boundaries. Putting your relationship with your child in the forefront and sincerely letting them know that the relationship is important to you helps! I have found that our best days happen when we both acknowledge that our relationship is essential to our sense of well being.
- A strong-willed teen is seeking to master her surroundings. (not news, I know) The more I allow her to make her own choices without my input, criticism, or comment the happier she feels. Of course this means that we all have to live with her choices. As long as she makes those choices, however ridiculous I see them, the less she feels the need to rebel against me. For example, The Doctor has these shorts that I think look like underwear with the Union Jack on them. She thinks that they are OK to wear and I think they look shocking. The other day, as I was driving her to the mall to meet with friends, it occurred to me that she might be hiding something about her wardrobe. I asked her if she was hiding some Union Jack under that long black skirt. She looked over at me and said that she was. I could have freaked. (Maybe I should have, but) I asked her to show me how they looked without the skirt. With the black tights they still looked awful, but I told her, "Well, then keep the skirt in your bag in case you want it." Off she went, at the mall, wearing the underwear shorts over the tights. When I picked her up later, she was wearing the skirt. BAM. I wasn't the bad guy. But watching her walk away in that get up was murder!
- Give her absolute power over her body - The dressing issue comes up for us often, but there is more, more than just the shoulder-length earrings. One morning, picking her up from a sleepover, I found my daughter's skin covered with tons of doodling, all in Sharpie Marker. Words, images, all over her body. I could see her waiting for me to explode. I wasn't happy, but I did say, "How cool is that one...who gave you the Union Jack?" She was so happy and talked about the experience for days. Later she admitted how silly the ink was and how it lasted way longer than she had hoped. (yay) Also, when my sister was in high school she and her best friend shaved their heads, bald! We could have freaked. But, guess what, it grew back.
- Let her save face. There is no point in needing to be right. Allowing my daughter to have her own views and to find her way to new information has very positive effects. It allows her to not have to be oppositional with me. It means that our conversations can be less about her being in a "learning" position, which she hates, but they can be more about us exploring ideas together. If I give her the room to back down, she will do so gracefully (and gratefully). And, I notice that the times when I force the issue of me being right, the less productive it is. Letting her save face also allows her to feel positive about the lessons she does eventually learn. (P.S. Needing to be "right" is a power struggle you don't want to get into.) Besides, teens won't learn a lesson during a conflict. The more you push the issue, the less likely your teen will ever "give in."
- Value the relationship you have with your teen. Communicate this to her by listening to her point of view. If she has a habit of putting her feet down and standing her ground it may get your goat. So remember, the thing she is standing up for is important to her. Do everything you can to listen calmly to your teenager. If you can listen with a loving heart and if you can find a way to "yes" you will find that the generosity and goodness of your heart will begin to be mirrored in your teen. The closer you work at being with your teen the more likely you and your teen will be able to find a middle ground. Which brings us to...
- Try to see struggles from her point of view. When The Doctor sees that I am seeking to see her point of view, she appreciates that. For a moment, overlook her unpleasant attitude and look at the content of the situation. Evaluate the conflict based on whether it strengthens or weakens your relationship with your child. Making this effort to approach the conflict in this empathic way helps your teen focus on improving her behavior rather than on being angry at you.
- Give choices - Chores and responsibility. Will I sound utterly simple if I remind parents to give their child choices? Saturday chore days around here can be very unfun if I forget this one. But, the days I remember to offer choices of what needs doing and when it needs to be done, I get lots more cooperation. No one likes orders. I HATE rules and orders and guidelines. Interestingly enough, when I give her a job that actually challenges her, she tends to rise to the challenge! Which brings me to the next...
- Remember what it's like to have a boss - Who likes this? Who enjoys and respects a tyrannical boss? No one, of course. Start all interactions by reaffirming the importance of your connection with your teen and remember that teens generally enter into conflict when they feel bad about themselves or when they feel disconnected from us. These states of mind can be difficult for a teen to put into words.
- Use empathy when setting limits - Sometimes we, as parents, have to say "no". When necessary, do so with empathy. Acknowledge your teen's feelings so that they know that you truly care about the feelings that they have. The less confrontational a limit is set, the easier it may be for your teen to accept those limits. In ALL situations when your child is in danger, you must set limits with extremely high levels of empathy and enforce those limits.
- Offer your strong-willed teen respect and empathy. Most teens are fighting for respect. If you offer it to them, they don’t need to fight to protect their position. And, like the rest of us, it helps a lot if they feel understood. If you see his point of view and think he's wrong you can still offer him empathy and meet him part way while you set the limit.
- Avoid Groundings and Punishments -Timeouts, while infinitely better than arguing, are just another version of punishment by banishment and humiliation. They leave a worked-up teen alone to manage their tangled-up emotions. They actually undermine opportunity for emotional growth. They break down, rather than strengthen, your relationship with your child. They set up a power struggle. Instead, expect a teen to face natural consequences. Teens can learn alot by suffering through natural consequences. In some difficult cases, we all learn from letting things go wrong.
- Give yourself a timeout when you feel like your temper is rising. If you're in a heated discussion, excuse yourself for a few moments before shouting or saying hurtful things. Take a break until you can come back with a more rational approach. Your teen will see a health way to handle being difficult and may be more apt to play a calmer part in the discussion once he sees that you are being respectful toward him.
- Recognize that the final goal is for your teen to be able to self-discipline. It takes time and the teen years are learning years. Ultimately loving guidance results in your teen being better able to make decisions for herself...and isn't that what this is all about?
Number 14: ENJOY and CELEBRATE this child!
That strong will will take them far in life!
Did you notice?
Much of this is MY attitude needing adjusting.
|I'm The Doctor and I have APPROVED of this message|
I would appreciate your feedback on this post.
If you liked this post you may also like:
Or this one:
Or this one:
Or try this post: