It’s Not All Mary Poppins

expecting respect — teen version

A recent online conversation about teens provoked an email exchange, which seemed to me to be the essence of a pretty good post. This one’s about teens, not toddlers, but those of you with toddlers will soon see the parallels between teen and toddler behaviours! Anyone with teens certainly sees them. :)

And thus the parenting response is quite similar in principal, though different in execution.

In the conversation, one woman had said she didn’t sweat the small stuff, that she ignores the eye-rolling, sarcasm, and sneering. My hackles went up instantly.

The principle — don’t sweat the small stuff — is sound. The thing is, eye-rolling is an expression not only of disrespect, but of contempt. In studies done of marriages, certain behaviours are strong indicators of divorce within a predictable time-frame. Habitual expressions of contempt, which include sneering, sarcasm, and eye-rolling, are among them. John Gottman, the mathematician-turned-psychologist whose research is the cornerstone of this idea, comments that “respect and affection are essential to all relationships working and contempt destroys them.”

Teenagers may try to sneer, mock, and roll their eyes all the time, but they’re not “small stuff”, and I strongly believe you should sweat them.

My kids got my iciest rage if they ever sneered or rolled their eyes at me. “You may be angry at me, but you WILL express that anger respectfully, just as I am respectful with you.”

People have to learn that they can control their behaviour even when their emotions are involved. And that learning doesn’t come without lots of practice. I expect it of toddlers, in a rudimentary way, I expect it of teens, in a much more sophisticated (though not fully adult) way.

As I expect it of myself. Only seems reasonable.

My oldest might have sneered or rolled her eyes twice. The younger two learned from their big sister’s example, and, though my youngest has come close to the edge with sneering, I don’t think she’s ever once rolled her eyes at me. She has also been known to apologize for mood swings — without being asked!

While I have told her she can’t take out her bad mood on me, and she can certainly apologize for mood-driven bad behaviour, I don’t expect an apology for the mood itself, because mood swings? They’re small stuff. You don’t sweat ‘em. (Like with the todders, “you can be angry, but you may not…”)

“Small stuff”also includes door-slamming, petulant tears, protestations of eternal misery, stomping up stairs, pouting…

I endeavour to help them put the moods in perspective, but very rarely do I attempt to do that WHILE the mood is ongoing… Expecting a teen to dissect/analyze an emotion while it’s being experienced is the very definition of “exercise in futility”. Wait. I lie. I did that with my FIRST child.

Live and learn.

I think the most important thing that I’ve learned re: teens is to observe the moods without being drawn into them. To let them roll over and through, but don’t get involved with the child until it’s over. My primary role during the negative mood is to ensure that its expression is respectful, and that innocent bystanders are not used as whipping-boys. “Respectful” doesn’t necessarily include calm or reasonable. They are allowed their emotions. It does mean “not aggressively rude”.

And when the teen is calm, when their rationality has asserted itself over the (probably hormonally-enhanced) emotions, THEN you can have the talk. (Which, with teens, particularly boys, might be three minutes at most. You learn to be CONCISE, with teens.) You can debrief, they can learn that you still love them… and that they have the power to control their own responses. That emotions are signposts, not roads, that they give us a certain amount of valuable information, but it’s the brain that gets us there.

And that if they roll their eyes at the momma, they risk losing one.

May 21, 2010 Posted by | aggression, manners, my kids, parenting, power struggle, socializing, tantrums | , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Anger

What is the most troublesome parenting concern? What is the aspect of parenting that effects discipline issues, self-esteem issues, child-control issues, tantrums, whining, family dynamics… you name it?

tantrumAnger.

It affects:
– how you feel when you are angry with your child
– how you respond when you are angry with your child
– how you respond when your child is angry with you
– how you respond when your child is angry with/about anything else

In short, there isn’t one aspect of interacting with your child that isn’t affected by your attitude to and response to that most troublesome of emotions.

And if you haven’t got your own anger (and your attitudes to it) sorted out for yourself in a useful, constructive way, you are going to have no end of trouble with anger as it arises during child-rearing.

If you’re sitting there saying, “Well. This doesn’t apply to me. I’m never angry with my little darling. Sometimes I’m disappointed or sad, but never angry”… if that’s your attitude, you have some SERIOUS denial issues. Everyone gets angry. Everyone.

But that attitude and its close relation, “Anger is bad and I shouldn’t feel it” cause more parenting problems than I can count.

Let’s clear something up right away: Anger is not bad. It is not wrong. It is not a sign of a weak personality. It does not make you a bad parent.

Anger is simply and emotion, and (say it with me, people) emotions are neither right nor wrong. They just are. Where the rightness and wrongness comes in is in the expression of the emotion. But here we must clarify still further. Expressing anger is not wrong. Necessarily. What matters is how you express it.

“Easy for you. You never get angry, not really angry.” These words were spoken by an abusive man to a woman I know. Why did he believe that, when it was patently false? Because she never went into frothing, out-of-control rages. If she really felt anger, he reasoned, if she really got angry (like he did), then she, too, would go into wild, manic rages. He figured that because she didn’t become abusive when angry, she couldn’t really be angry.

Whether we agree with his reasoning consciously or not, a lot of us base our responses to anger on those same assumptions. That is our fear: Anger = Danger, Mayhem, Violence.

Which it does — in toddlers. The thing is, by the time we achieve adulthood, we should have developed the control over our anger such that we can be angry — really and truly furious — without losing control. You can be angry without screaming and hitting and biting and spitting and throwing things. A young toddler can’t. An older toddler can, mostly. (Yes, they can.) And an adult? Of course you can.

Not only is anger not necessarily destructive, anger can be actively constructive. So few people understand this. Anger can be the catalyst for change, the motivation to take brave steps, the fuel for justice, pushing us those one or two steps further than we would normally go. Anger is a tremendous motivator, applied properly.

Yet we have this tremendous fear of anger. A fear so strong that we can’t allow ourselves to be angry in our children’s presence. We can’t allow ourselves to let our children know that we are angry with them. We cower from our own anger, and thus deny our children invaluable lessons of our good emotional modelling. And when our children are angry, we tend either to cower from it — cave into any and all demands just to appease it and make it go away… either that, or disallow it entirely. Neither are helpful, healthy, or effective, for you, for the child, or for your relationship with the child.

We have to get past this. We have to learn to deal with anger in a useful, constructive way. So that we can parent our children effectively. So that our children can learn to manage their anger by seeing us do it, by being allowed to be angry, by being taught to manage theirs as we manage ours. We need to learn to be angry, properly, constructively.

So we can all be happier!

May 27, 2009 Posted by | aggression, manners, parenting | , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

   

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 311 other followers