A particular area of interest for me is the teenage brain. It is one of the most rapidly changing periods of brain development. This is no surprise to parents who are trying to understand the rapidly changing personality of the teenager.
Perhaps the most dramatic area of development is the area called the prefrontal orbital brain. It is called this because it sits directly behind our eyeballs and it is responsible for abstract thought, moral reasoning, self-control, planning, judgment and so many other areas commonly associated with adults. This area is in constant flux, causing radical shifts in mood and attitude. This formation and reformation of the brain continue into young adulthood (the mid-20’s). I often joke with parents that while their child has the hardware upgrade, the software has not yet been installed. This is why the teen is capable of getting pregnant, driving a car or doing algebra but they don’t mean that they are completely ready for the adult world of intense responsibility or raising a family.
This poses significant challenges to parents who want to navigate the raging waters of adolescence, therefore, I am going to list four basic reminders to help parents stay sane when their child actions appear insane. I am using the acronym WORK to guide parents:
W = Remember that your child is still “wondering” about how the world works. He or she might try to convince you that they already know how it does but they don’t. They haven’t had enough experience yet for this to be possible. They need you to help them by asking “what if” questions that will explain some cause and effect relationship and assist them in planning out their day and making better judgments. Because their brain is still developing they use their “will” to fight you and cover up their inexperience. Don’t shame them. Train the “will” to find positive rewards in daily interactions. “Wait” for them to get it. It will take them longer than you as they haven’t traveled some of these morally sticky situations in life yet. Allow them a little more time to “wake” up to a new world of responsibilities and schedules.
O = Be “open” to “opportunities” for your teenage child to share some wisdom about the world and how to survive in it. Don’t preach at them as this will shut them down completely. “Occupy” the same space and look for openings when you are both in a good mood. The relational approach will be more effective and allow more “objective” conversation between you. Remember that “obedience” at this age is really about natural consequences or trial and error for the teenager. The will learn more about doing then lecturing. Being a good role model will help them understand how to use the “operators” manual called their brain more than lots of words at this time of life.
R = “Relationship” is one of the toughest things to have with the teen but one of the most important tasks a parent can do for their child. You may only have a split-second when the door is open wide enough to have that former intimacy but use it when you can. It will pay huge ‘rewards” for both of you later in life. “Recognize” that the teen is in process. They are still not fully cooked and need more time in the oven of life before they can be expected to make better decisions. They will “reflect” their peers and “respond” more from other inexperienced teenagers over their own, more experienced parents. This is not a true sign of his “respect” or “rejection.” The teen is just trying to find their own way. Don’t take this personal. “Rebelliousness” is the other side of the “readiness” coin of maturity.
K = Be “kind” to your teen as they developmentally, socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Turn the proverbial other cheek and smile when they growl. Reach out again when they slap away your hand. The “key” to relating to the teenager is a long-term vision. This isn’t just about today. It is about the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years of your life together. The cold response you get from that teen-child today will “kindle” into a stronger fire connection later in life. Work with that end in mind. Keep in mind this is your “kin.” They may be more like you than you care to admit. They share your nature and your nurture and need your “kudo’s” for every positive effort and the end result you can give.
A family meeting gives every member of the family a chance to express himself freely in all matters of both difficulty and pleasure pertaining to the family. The emphasis should be on “What we can do about the situation.” Meet regularly at the same time each week. Rotate the leader. Keep minutes. Have an equal vote for each member. Only bring those concerns to the family meeting, which are negotiable. Require a consensus, rather than a majority vote on each decision. Some family rules are non-negotiable. Perhaps explanations or reinforcement of a rule would be appropriate.
Have fun together and thereby help to develop a relationship based on enjoyment, mutual respect, love and affection, mutual confidence and trust, and a feeling of belonging. Instead of talking to nag, scold, preach, and correct, utilize talking to maintain a friendly relationship. Speak to your child with the same respect and consideration that you would express to a good friend.
By Ron Huxley, LMFT
The most difficult problem I have when working with children, in my private practice, is the parents. When parents cannot agree on how to raise a child, and specifically, how to discipline, it is almost impossible to reach a solution. By the time parents reach me, the problem has been going on for such a long time that neither parent will budge from there position. It is only when one of the parents will give up some of the battle ground that I can help the parents help the child.
This is even truer in divorced or separated families. In these situations, the parents are more interested in returning cannon fire at the “other parent” for past wrongs then they are interested in co-parenting their children although
that is what they claim motivates their actions. They will fight with their child’s name as their battle cry, making their warring appear righteous and their violence just, and sacrificing the needs of their children for stable, cooperative parents.
But, I have few battle tactics myself. In those moments when parents cannot agree, I offer parents some difficult truces:
The first truce is called “Squatters Rights.” The first parent on the scene gets to do the discipline, no interference allowed. This works well for parents that cannot reach a compromise or with children who are masters at the “divide and conquer” routine. In this routine, the child, who may or may not have been the original transgressor, walks away from the crime, leaving warring parents in his or her wake. Why? Because the child has learned the art, dark and ugly as it is, of how to manipulate parents into a confrontation with one another to get out of trouble. Only parents who have recognized this routine with their children can use this truce effectively.
The second truce is called “Tag Team Discipline.” The other parent can only take over the discipline when the first parent signals for help. Just like tag team wrestling, a tag or signal must be made before the other parent can enter the ring. At that point it is the other parents turn to discipline and no interference is allowed from the first parent who left the ring. Unless a second tag is made. This truce will only work when parents recognize a need to cooperate more but can’t break out of old warring patterns with each other.
The third truce is called “Two Heads are Better Than One.” In this situation, no decision is made unless both parents have consulted one another and agree completely on the decision. If they do not agree, no decision is made. This will put an immediate stop to children whom play one parent against the other. It will work only for parents who are motivated to working cooperatively together but are having difficulty knowing how to get started.
The fourth truce is called “Getting Off the See-Saw.” You have seen a see-saw at a child’s play ground. It has a long board, usually with two seats at either end, resting of a bar or barrel so that the board can rock up and down. Parents who war with one another are like two children playing on a see-saw. Push down on one side of the see-saw and the other side goes up. Push back on the other side and the first side goes up. Parents who disagree are engaging in a rocking motion that is self-perpetuating. It becomes very difficult to stop playing on the see-saw, especially after years of practice. This truce is only for parents who sincerely want to stop the see-saw rhythm in their relationship but cannot get the other person to stop pushing on the see-saw. It requires that the parent, who wants to get off, to moving toward the middle of the see-saw and away from their extreme position. If your husband is too lax with the kids, act more permissive and he will be more authoritarian. If he is too harsh, set some firm limits and he may become softer. The other parent can’t help put push on their end, even if it is not the one they originally choose. Eventually they will be forced to step off and stand on equal ground.
The fifth truce is called the “Ben Franklin’s Problem Solving Method.” It has been said that whenever Ben Franklin, an American Patriarch and successful business man, could not make a decision, he would take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. He would then put all the reasons for the decision on one side of the line and all the reasons against it on the other. The side with the most reasons would win. The success of this method is its reliance on logic and facts versus emotions – a dangerous area for warring parents. It will only work for parents who have had some experience cooperating with one another but get stuck on a particularly emotional issues.
The six truce is called the “Coin Toss.” Sometimes parents, even cooperative ones, cannot reach an agreement. Usually the best choice here is to decide to not make a choice. But when that isn’t possible I suggest that parents simply toss a coin. One parent calls it in the air and which ever side it lands on that parent gets the final say. Of course, I am usually joking with the parents when I suggest this truce, but if they want to use it, each parent has 50 percent chance of winning. I know for a fact that this is a higher percentage than most parents get in decision-making with each other. Humor is an important skill in parental negotiations. When parents take parenting too seriously, they lose perspective on what they are trying to accomplish and war erupts. Families today experience more stress than families of the past. This is why humor and a flexible attitude is crucial to cooperation. This truce will only work for parents whom generally cooperate with one another but get stuck from time to time.
These six truces cover the full range of situations where parents can disagree about parenting. If they do not work, find a family therapist to help the negotiations. Otherwise, war will continue. As with real wars, innocent children are often victims of even the most righteous causes.
Sometimes parenting just seems like a game…that you never win.
The child team has more energy, more time, and more players. To help parents improve the odds, we’ve come up with some new “game plans” that might even the score.
Here are three parenting tools that look like games but can really build cooperation and respect:
Follow the Leader is a parenting tool that can be used in two ways:
As a game; and as a “redirection” tool. When using this tool as a game, parents can invite their children to play “follow the leader.“ This game is fun on family trips or vacations. Families with more than one child can have each child take turns leading the family hike or singing a song. The leader has the power to choose which forest path to take or which song to sing. Each child (and parent) gets the opportunity to be the leader, thereby encouraging equality and fairness. When used as a “redirection” tool controlling children can be direct their need to take charge of a particular task, such as getting the family together for dinner or organizing a wood gathering party for the campfire. This is a great game to replace power-struggling.
Freeze Play is a parenting tool variation of the old stand-by: Time-Out
Time-out is usually conducted by isolating or excluding a child from the rest of the family or classroom. In this traditional form children are sent to their room, a chair in the kitchen, outside the classroom door, or left facing a wall. Time-Out has a number of disadvantages, the primary one being that it involves the use of punishment that may seem harsh to some parents and children. Some children may become out-of-control or physically destructive when put in isolation or exclusion time-out. Fortunately, parents can use a different form of time-out, that behaviorists call “nonexclusionary time-out.“
Nonexclusionary time-out, like isolation and exclusionary time-out, eliminates reinforces (interaction with others). It accomplishes this by freezing the moment of interaction with the child for a very brief, but poignant amount of time. For example, if a child starts whining when told they must wait for dinner to eat, the parent can firmly but evenly, say, “freeze!” The parent then avoids eye contact (i.e., attention during the discipline) for a few seconds and the child is prohibited from communicating during this time. Afterwards the parent can nonchalantly carry on the task at hand or use Time-In or educational parenting tool. Be careful not to place too much emphasis on talking about the misbehavior afterwards as it might inadvertently reinforce the child to misbehave again for the attention it gains.
It might be necessary for the parent to tell the child what is going to happen during “freeze play” and the expectation that there will be no communication/eye contact during that time, so that the child knows why the parent is “acting this way.“ In addition, the old rule of thumb for time-out, one minute for every year of life, can be used in Freeze Play by substituting seconds for minutes (e.g., one frozen second for every year of life.)
Huddling is a parenting tool shorten version of a family meeting without all the fuss or preparation time.
Huddling is a quick, informal, type of family meeting that any number of family members can have together and can occur at any time or place. Football players do this before every play to make sure the team knows what the plan is and to make clear everyone’s job. Family members can stop whatever they are doing to have a quick, little meeting about a specific problem or task. Parents can play the captain by telling the family to “huddle together.” Put arms around one another for support or just gather together in a circle, face in. Talk about the problem or task and assign jobs or ask for quick input. Decide on a plan of action and say “let’ go!“ Parents can use this tool at the zoo to decide what they are going to go see first, at the restaurant to decide what everyone wants to eat, and at home to decide what toys need to be gathered up before going to the park. While these “game plans” don’t guarantee a winning season, they can coach parents on new ways to improve their performance and their satisfaction in parenting.
OK, let’s play!
By Ron Huxley, LMFT
Parenting a traumatized child can be challenging and exhausting work. It isn’t something that should be done alone without adequate support. Parents must take care of themselves as well as others. You can’t give away what you don’t have… Faith-based families look to God for their help (Psalms 121:1-2) and operate from a place of REST:
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
“He restores my soul.” Psalms 23:
REST stands for RE-store your Soul from Trauma. Our soul includes our entire being: body, mind/emotions and spirt. Each area requires attention. How do we do that when we have an endless to-do list, dealing with continuous problems?
The key is to find rest IN work, not FROM work. It is a mental recognition that we can be in partnership with God and others. We can set boundaries and say “No” to outside activities, not live up to others expectations, and remembering “who you are and whose you are” spiritually speaking. You have to be a “son or daughter” before you can be a fully functioning father or mother. Seek out spiritual parents to support you as you carry on the work of parenting traumatized children.
List 5 ways you will restore your soul in the next 30 days:
By guest blogger: Stephanie Patterson, LMFT
According to researcher Brene Brown,
shame is defined as “the intensely painful experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”
Shame has a strong visceral reaction. One person describes it as “that feeling in the pit of your stomach that is dark and hurts like hell. You can’t talk about it and you can’t articulate how bad it feels because then everyone would know your ‘dirty little secret.’” And yet we all experience it from time to time when one of our vulnerable spots gets triggered. For example, motherhood and body image can bring a feeling of shame to women; men commonly feel ashamed of being weak.
Shame is different from guilt.
Shame is believing one is bad, while guilt is believing one did something bad
This is an important distinction.
Parents often try to shame their children into obedience, mistakenly thinking shame is a great motivator. This could not be farther from the truth. Shame disconnects us from others. It immobilizes us. It makes us feel weak. We want to shrivel up into a little ball and disappear. When we call children names, when we say “You’re always…(anything negative)”, or if we say, “Don’t be a…. (wimp, cry baby, drama queen, etc.),” we are shaming our kids. When we tell children, teens, or grown up children that they ARE something, they usually believe it. Then they wear that label and inwardly feel it is true about them. Make sure you are not telling them they are something bad. That is shaming.
On the other hand, feeling bad about doing something wrong can be a great motivator for change. The difference is that when you do something wrong, you yourself are not something wrong.
There is a fine but significant distinction.
In Brene Brown’s book I Thought it was Just Me (But it Isn’t), she shares her insights from years of studying shame and how to overcome it.
Here are her steps in a nutshell:
- Notice when one of your shame triggers is hit. Get to know what your body feels like and the thoughts that tend to run through your head when you feel shame.
- Reach out to someone you feel comfortable with. This person should be reliably supportive on the topic that you are feeling shame about. For example, I may go to my sister on topics of womanhood or dealing with family, but I may avoid topics of raising children if she sometimes makes unfavorable comparisons.
- The last step is the hardest: speaking shame. After you receive a healthy dose of empathy from your support person, you can then talk with the person who hurt your feelings. You can tell them what they said and how deeply it hurt you. When you are able to speak your truth about your shame, you disarm it.
We cannot always know which of our comments will hit someone’s shame target right on, but we can be fairly certain that when we respond to others with empathy, shame cannot exist. Empathy means listening to others, hearing the emotional undertone of their messages, and commenting on how the experience might feel to them. Empathy connects and heals. Shame severs and hurts.
Discipline is a lens by which parents determine how much freedom can my child handle?
Parents can take back their home life and create an atmosphere of love and peace. The strategy is battling a series of change campaigns over many weeks, months and perhaps years. Don’t lose the war due to impatience or stretching yourself too thin by fighting every battle of every day. You are outnumbered! You don’t have the same amount of physiological energy as your children. Be strategic and fight key battles on specific hills and don’t give up until that battle is won. These hills are territories of the heart that have been taken over by fear, resentments, unforgiveness, entitlements, When they are taken over, relationships become cold and defenses are built. Risk, through reconciliation and repentance of mistakes are the weapons that bring these defenses down.