If you are the parent of an adolescent between 11 and 16 years old, listen up!
Our children are amazing and smart and funny and rude and mean and delightful and deceptive and disrespectful and loving and caring and selfish—what I mean to say is, they are full of contradictions. One moment they are fine and cooperative, then the next they are angry, hurtful, and may even hate us. Are you with me? Excellent, I see some of you nodding and smiling. Stay with me for a few minutes, I have a strategy to share with you which I think you’ll find helpful.
When our children are born, we have so much hope for them: big expectations for their future successes and the desire to raise the best kid ever. This is all good and vital for the world and peace at home, but what about your children’s emerging sense of self? From the time our children begin to walk as toddlers, we teach them that they can do anything they put their minds to, and that with a lot of practice they can accomplish great things. We are creating their sense of self—who they are, and their sense of self-worth. We are also empowering them to be their own person, to be independent, to be a team player, to get along.
So as our children grow and learn, we teach them the rules, set boundaries and limits for them, structure their lives, explain how to be respectful, share our beliefs, motivate them, and then we encourage them to think on their own. All good! Yes!
Now jump ahead to your children as preteens and teenagers. They are physically bigger, capable of completing tasks independently, very verbal, and still quite ego-centric.
As our children reach “prematurity”—when they are simultaneously able and unable to be independent—our universal parent belief is to make them accountable without having to direct their every move. Our parent belief says that we are done with helping them every step of the way, since we know they can succeed independently, and we had to assist them and guide them when they were toddlers.
Here’s the strategy: it involves a new parenting belief that may come as an epiphany for some of you. During these preteen and teen years, our children may actually be in emotional toddlerhood again!
Yes, it may be hard to wrap your brain around it. But if we are to set our children up for succes during this prematurity stage, we must entertain the thought that a “guided toddler” can reach set goals, as well as a “guided teen” and “‘tween!”
In my practice, I work with well-meaning and loving parents who expect their ‘tweens and teens to get things done without positive parental backup, with only negative parental ridicule and frustration. I frequently hear, “Why does it have to be a battle?” “They can do that without my help!” “They’re lazy, why don’t they just do it?”
Now, I’m feeling there may be some elevated stress happening. Let’s relax and take three slow, deep yoga breaths, one at a time. Be sure you are seated comfortably without crossing your legs or arms. Be mindful of your breathing and stress levels. Breathe slowly in through your nose, inflating your abdomen like a balloon, without lifting your shoulders. Hold your breath for a moment, then very slowly exhale through your mouth until your abdomen is flat, like letting the air out of the balloon. Breathe normally for a few moments. Repeat two more slow, deep yoga breaths. So, are you more relaxed?
Here’s a strategy to set them up for success. Too many times, we use our parent power to step out of the game, “set them up for failure,” and then watch them fail. What is the message we are communicating to our children when we set them up to fail? It is far more effective for parents to step back into the game and guide our ‘tweens and teens towards success. When our children were toddlers, we gave them the directions and stood by letting them do it, guiding as they went. Then we praised them with big smiles, hugs, and high-fives! As they got better and better, we may have stepped away, then come back to check on them, either correcting or praising.
Use this method to re-engage with your ‘tween or teen: give the direction and provide follow up, spaced out earlier with corrections and praises. ‘Tweens and teens tell me they want their parents’ attention, so do some of the task with them, or just hang out with them and praise, praise, praise!
The new parent mindset is not one of defeat or family failure. Rather, it’s the idea of being our children’s coach and continuing to help them reach their goals with our help. This “second toddlerhood” can be a positive, reconnecting stage for us with our children. It lets them know we are still their parents and very much involved in their lives. It sends them messages that they are very special and worthy of our time, and that we want to give them positive attention—all of this fosters mutual respect.
It’s never too late to try this strategy, even if the battle’s already on. Helping and guiding is still the role of a parent, even when our children are back in prematurity toddlerhood!
You can do it! Take a deep yoga breath to start!
© Copyright 2010 by Beth S. Pumerantz, LMFT. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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