Let’s face it. Teens do some crazy
things at times. I did some stupid things as a teen. You probably did too. And,
our teens probably will as well. They may do one thing we never thought in a
million years they would do; and, in so doing, break our trust. It may be
simple, like staying out past their curfew. Or, it may be more serious, like
getting caught with drugs or sending a revealing picture to the “new love
of their life” (or convincing their “new love” to send the
picture). Whatever it is, big or small, it shatters the trust we once had for
our sweet, innocent child. We discipline and work to assure the behavior won’t
happen again. But how do we rebuild the trust we once had? How do we begin to
trust our teen again?
Be open with
your teen. Explain your feelings to your teen.
Let them know their behavior hurt you. You may have sounded angry, but
underneath the anger was hurt and disappointment. Explain your desire to trust
them again and your continued love for them. Let them know you recognize their
potential and believe in their ability to reach that potential. Recall times in
which your teen has acted in ways that built trust and increased your pride in
them. Let them know you still remember those positive behaviors as well.
balanced view of your teen. Recall
the positive things your teen has done and said that give you a sense of joy
and pride in order to balance any feelings of disappointment and hurt you may
have experienced. Remember, you have also done wonderful things and things of
which you are not proud. Allow your teen the same freedom.
your feelings. You have talked to your teen, now
deal with your own emotions. They are your feelings and your responsibility.
Don’t let your emotions interfere with your changing relationship with your
teen. Resolve them.
boundaries and expectations…but be
careful as you do. Do not set up unrealistic expectations in a knee-jerk
reaction to the behavior that broke your trust. Be reasonable. Discuss limits
and boundaries with another adult to get a more objective viewpoint. Discuss
them with your teen as well. Work to reach an agreement on what constitutes
reasonable expectations for your home and family.
clear roadmap for regaining trust and watch your teen’s journey on that road to
redemption. When your teen meets an expectation
or follows a rule, make a point to notice it and allow it to enhance your trust
in them. Realize no teen is perfect, so allow for some minor setbacks. A rule of thumb is to allow
your teen 1 setback for 5-6 trust building actions you observe. Keep your eyes
open for those trust building actions. Don’t let them slip by unnoticed.
Take a risk. Parents have the tendency to hold their teen closer and
micromanage their every activity after trust has been broken. Unfortunately,
this only increases frustration. It leads to greater conflict and a further
deterioration of trust. Rather than micromanage, allow your teen to engage in a
“trial run.” Explain the “trial run” to your teen. “I
am trusting you with this job or activity. When all goes well and they return,
you will have nurtured trust. If you revert to the behavior that originally
broke our trust, you will have further damaged our trust.”
Finally, talk about other stuff.
Don’t continue repeating the conversation about your fears and their behavior.
Find some areas of interest to talk about. If they enjoy music, talk about
music. If they enjoy fishing, talk about fishing. Find areas in which you can
enjoy conversation with your teen. Doing so will build relationship and trust.
These 7 actions are not simple. But
they will help rebuild trust with your teen and deepen your relationship with
Pre-adolescents and adolescents go
through tremendous change. They change from elementary school to middle school
to high school to college. Their individual
classrooms and teachers change multiple times a day. Their relationships with family
and friends change. Their voices change. Their bodies change. Even their brain
changes. In fact, their changing brain makes pre-adolescence and adolescence
the perfect time for building the habit of contributing to family and community.
One impact of a teen’s changing brain is their growing ability to think
abstractly and consider the consequences of various actions and words. They
want to make a contribution of consequence, a meaningful contribution as
opposed to the simple act of making their bed (which they likely perceive as
having little benefit to themselves or others). So, think about ways in which
your teen can have substantial impact on others in the community—a regular
volunteer position helping children or elderly or homeless for instance. When
you want them to contribute to the home by doing chores, explain the
“substantial benefit” of that chore. Don’t just make it up; be
sincere. Your teen wants to make a difference. Provide opportunities for them
to do so.
The teen brain also has a growing
ability to take another person’s perspective and to understand another person’s
feelings. They often “go overboard” with this growing ability in
their attempt to become popular with their peers. This new ability grows so strong
they worry about “bad hair days” or the “pimple that will ruin
the dance.” But you can utilize their growing ability to take another
person’s perspective and their desire to be popular by helping them consider how
they might contribute to their home and community. For what group of people do
they feel a particularly strong compassion? How might they like to contribute
to others in a meaningful way? How do household chores impact others in the
home? You might have these types of discussions with your teen while discussing
chores, opportunities to serve, or ways of contributing to others.
The reward system in your teen’s
brain is also changing. They experience greater positive feelings from new and
exciting activities than we do as adults. This drives some of their risk-taking
behaviors. However, research suggests that this same brain area (the reward
system) drives kind and helpful behaviors as well. In fact, most people,
including teens, find kindness and helpfulness a “feel-good experience;”
they find it rewarding. Sounds like a great reason to build opportunities to
make contributions of consequences into your teen’s life.
Your teen’s brain is primed for making
contributions of consequence. Create such opportunities in the family. Let them
provide real and meaningful jobs like caring for younger siblings, helping with
meal preparation, or participating in family decisions about food choices,
rules, daily activities, or vacations.
Encourage them to become involved in their school through student
government, clubs, or sports where they can take on leadership and
decision-making roles. Provide opportunities for them to contribute to the
community through regular volunteer efforts in areas where they have a
particularly strong interest or passion.
ride an emotional roller coaster. They get angry, happy, excited, bored, and so
much more. You name it, they feel it. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to
manage those feelings in a mature way…YET. One of our parental jobs is to teach
them the skills necessary to manage emotions in a mature and effectively way.
The first step in teaching your children the skills to manage their emotions well is to make sure you manage your emotions well. (Find tips to manage your own emotion and get your teen to talk while you do in Encouraging Your Teen to Talk with You.)
Third, develop an “Emotional Management Toolbox”
with your child. Find a shoe box. Then sit down with your child to talk
about ways to manage their emotions. As you talk about various methods, fill
the box with items that will help them carry out the plan. Here are a few items
that may prove useful in an Emotional Management Toolbox.
A set of emotional face cards. You can download this picture of facial expressions here or here to represent your child’s emotions. Cut them into cards, one emotion per card. Your child can use these pictures and labels to help him name the emotion he is feeling. Being able to name an emotion allows a person the time to think about the best response to that emotion. Naming an emotion is a first step in managing an emotion.
A straw to focus breathing. A straw can help a person learn how practice a calming breath. Put the straw in your child’s mouth and have them take a big breath in through their nose and then slowly breath out through the straw. This slow breathing exercise can help calm emotions.
Favorite photos. Get photos that remind them of their favorite place, a favorite person, or who they want to become…photos that remind them of their values, their desires, and their relationships.
Art supplies. Your child can use art supplies to express his or her emotions in positive and nonharmful ways. So, get some crayons, markers, paints, coloring books, and paper. You can also get clay, playdough, beads, string…any art supplies your child might enjoy. Mandala coloring books can prove especially helpful with some teens.
Candles. Smells and aromas like lavender, sandalwood, jasmine, and vanilla are among the scents that have a calming effect on many people, including children. Scented candles and essential oils may prove a great tool in your child’s Emotional Management Toolkit.
Fidget toys and stress balls provide another excellent tool in the Emotional Management Toolkit. (A variety of fidget toys and stress balls can be found here or on amazon.)
A reminder to run or bike or do some physical activity. Sometimes a person needs to “blow off steam” to really manage their emotions. So figure out a way to put a reminder in the Emotional Management Toolkit. A picture or an action figure might do the trick…whatever serves as the best reminder for your child.
Self-affirmation cards. You and your child can sit down one day and create several self-affirmation cards to keep in their Emotional Management Toolkit. Statements like, “This makes me angry and I can use that anger to talk about what’s important to me.” Or, “I’ve managed this before and I can manage it again.” “I am stronger than my emotions.” “My emotions are not in charge of me; I’m in charge of my emotions.” You and your child can write down the ones that will be most helpful in your family.
more things you could put in your child’s Emotional Management Toolkit, but
I’ll leave that to you and your child’s creativity. Put it together and teach
them to use it. In time, your child will be a master at managing emotion.
I’ve often heard it said that “parents have to pick their battles.” It’s true. No use battling about eating jello when your child has already eaten their broccoli (Oops…Parenting Surprises & Lesson’s Learned). However, the biggest battle a parent faces does not involve their children. The biggest battle a parent faces involves only themselves…and it is fought on three fronts.
The first front in this battle involves the memories we have of our own childhood. We remember the emotional hurts we experienced in our childhood and teen years. We project our own teen angst and misbehaviors onto our children and work to save them from the pains we remember. We also remember our own teen behavior…or should I say misbehavior, those risky or disobedient or down-right stupid behaviors we engaged in. Once again, we project them onto our teens and fear they will engage in the same behaviors and experience the same painful consequences we did…or worse!
The second front in the battle against ourselves as parents involves second guessing decisions we made when our teens were children. We look back and fear we didn’t do enough of something…or too much of something else…or the wrong thing completely. In reality, we likely did the best we could with the information and knowledge we had at the time. And, our children were (and are) resilient enough to overcome a few of our mistakes. In fact, connecting and loving our children will cover a multitude of mistakes (see part three of this experiment in An Amazing Parenting Insight Learned in Three Parts).
The third front in the battle of parenting is the “great what if.” We begin asking ourselves, “What if my child keeps going down this path?” “What if they don’t do all their homework?” “What if they don’t make the basketball team…or don’t make the school play…or miss the school dance…or…?” The list goes on. Unfortunately, we too often answer the “what if” with the most catastrophic scenarios imaginable.
Each of these battles push us toward
fear-based parenting. They push us to set stricter rules so our children won’t “make
the same mistakes we did.” Fear-based parenting can even lead to a parent invading
their teen’s treasured privacy because “I know what I did as a kid. I know
all the tricks. They’re hiding something in that room (or on that phone).”
Eventually, fear-based parenting turns dictatorial. Fear-based parents focus on
performance and achievement.
Guess what results from fear-based
parenting. You got it. Our children become defensive and even rebellious. Teens
end up engaging in the very behaviors we tried to prevent through our
fear-based frenzy of control, rigid rules, and invasion of privacy.
What’s the answer? How can you avoid this? Begin
by winning the battle against yourself as a parent—your fear of repeating your
past, your fear of making a mistake, and your fear of the “what if.”
Move from a fear-based parenting style to a parenting style guided by love and
recognition of your children’s developmental needs. Also, remember that your
children grew up in a different environment than you did. They had different parents
than you. They have different information than you. They might make different
choices than you. And when they make mistakes, you’ll deal with those mistakes
together. You will take the opportunity provided by mistakes and misbehaviors
to love them in spite of their mistakes and to help them learn from those
mistakes. Rather than let fears (the fears of “what was done” in the
past and the fear of “what if” this happens in the future) determine
your parenting response, let love and knowledge determine your parenting response.
Let your knowledge of your teen as a unique individual, with unique
developmental needs, and a recipient of your unique love guide your parenting
Our children and teens are under a lot of pressure when it comes to body image. They see the “perfect bodies” in pop culture through photoshopped magazine images, bodies of celebrities sculpted by personal trainers and time, and deceptive beauty created by make-up and camera angles on social media. Physical appearance and body image have become a hotbed of insecurity for our teens and young adults. But the University of Missouri has outlined a simple routine that can improve your teen’s body image. You can engage in this routine right in your own home and as a family. To uncover this routine and its benefits, the researchers from University of Michigan analyzed data from 12,000 students from more than 300 schools that stretched across all 50 states and Washington DC. Your children can benefit from this activity if they engage in it without you, but they will gain even greater benefit if you engage in it with them. It only requires a short amount of time and you probably already do it anyway. All you have to do is start engaging in this activity with your child and it can help improve their body image. What is this activity, this routine? Eating breakfast. That’s right. As simple as that. Research suggests that the more frequently a child ate breakfast during the week, the more positive their body image. And, the results were even greater if they ate breakfast with a parent. Eating with a parent allowed the parent to model a positive relationship with food, build stronger a parent-child relationship, and encourage a healthy start to the day. A.A. Gill, a British writer and critic known for food and travel writing, is credited with saying, “Breakfast is everything. The beginning, the first thing. It is the mouthful that is the commitment to a new day, a continuing life.” Breakfast not only serves as a commitment to the beginning of a new day; it serves as the beginning of a positive body image as well. So, buy a box of cereal, toast up some bagels, make some pancakes or fry some eggs. Whatever you choose, enjoy some breakfast with your children.
One of the most challenging (if not THE most challenging) job in the world is the job of parenting. Parenting brings new challenges every day. It demands different strategies for different situations and different children. It thrusts us into an awareness of our need for personal growth and pushes us to our limit. Is it any wonder we make a mistake here or there? I know I’ve made my share of mistakes (Read Oops…Parenting Surprises & Lessons Learned for more mistakes I made). Here are 5 mistakes parents often make without even realizing it. By becoming aware of these mistakes, we can avoid falling mindlessly into the miry muck of parenting they create.
the mistake of constantly pointing out what “not to do.” I often felt myself falling into this pit. “Don’t
yell.” Stop running.” “Don’t do that.” “Don’t
hit.” “Don’t turn the TV on.” “Stop fighting.” On and
on. It’s so easy to tell our children what they are doing wrong. Sometimes they
seem to give us so much opportunity to do so. However, it will prove much more
effective when we tell them what we want them “to do” instead. “Hold my
hand.” “Walk.” “Gentle.” “Tell me what’s
wrong.” “Get out a board game.” “Read a book.” Sure,
there are times we need to tell them “not to do” something, but
always follow it up with what they “can do” instead. Many times,
however, we can just tell them what they “can do.”
we expect more from our children than they know or are developmentally ready
Our children are not born experts; we need to teach them…everything.
Teach them how to whisper in the library. Teach them how to load the
dishwasher. Teach them how to clean a room “up to standard.” Don’t
assume they know; teach them. Teaching them involves more than just telling
them what to do. Pull up your sleeves and do it with them a few times. Teaching
is a hands-on activity that builds
connection and intimacy.
we model the wrong behavior.
I know I modeled the wrong behavior at times. If you don’t believe me, read
(blogs about parenting failures). We might react in anger to traffic and says
something we wish our children had never heard…because now they repeat it
all…the…time. Instead of modeling the “wrong” behavior, model as much
positive behavior as you can. Let them see you apologize for your wrongs. Let
them hear you speak the truth. Let them witness your affection for your spouse.
Let them hear you encourage and thank other people. Model the behaviors and
words you want them to follow.
exhaustion or frustration, we discipline our children when they are simply
being annoying. You know what I mean. Sometimes a
four-year-old acts like a four-year-old (go figure) and we get annoyed. They
ask questions constantly, a normal behavior that helps them learn; but we get
annoyed and tell them to sit in silence. They play chase through the house
while we are trying to get some work done so we send them to their rooms. They
spill a drink accidentally and we yell at them.
We have disciplined for normal, age-appropriate behaviors that were simply
annoying at the time. These behaviors are not misbehaviors requiring
discipline. If anything, these behaviors may simply require redirection or
simple instruction. Let kids be kids…and teach them to be aware of others.
We tend to
be all talk and no action. Parenting
is not merely a verbal task. You cannot sit in your chair and yell, “Turn
the radio down,” “Get your hand out of the cookie jar,” or
“Clean up this mess” and expect it to happen. Parenting is a hands-on job. We need to talk less and
act more. Nag less and take action. Get out of the chair. Walk over to your
child. Put a hand on their shoulder and look them in the eye before giving them
a request or directive. When they follow through, give them a high-five or a
simple “thank you.” If they ignore the request, follow through with an
appropriate consequence. It doesn’t have to be a crushing consequence. Just a
simple consequence. Can’t clean the room, lose the opportunity to go out (or
watch TV) until it is clean. Won’t turn the radio down, lose the radio for a
day. Won’t get your hand out of the cookie jar, no dessert today. You get the
idea. Less talk, more action.
Don’t get caught in the miry muck of parenting
by engaging in these mindless parenting mistakes. Stand on firm ground with mindful
action that will promote your childrens’ growth.
If you have an infant in the house
and want them to develop strong language skills with a larger vocabulary, then
you want to learn a new language. I don’t mean French or Spanish, Chinese or
Japanese, or even Swahili. I mean you need to learn “parentese.”
That’s not “baby talk.” I’m talking about “parentese,” the
language in which a parent talks slowly and clearly with exaggerated vowels and
inflections. Parentese still uses real words as opposed to the nonsense
syllables of “baby talk.” Parentese involves fully grammatical sentences spoken
with an exaggerated tone of voice that sounds happy. Ironically, in this world
of division, parentese crosses all boundaries. It is used in all languages and benefits
children from all cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. All children who are
spoken to in this language are engaged by it. They listen more intently. They
even respond more often. At least that’s what researchers at the University of
Washington discovered. Specifically, they found that infants of parents coached
in parentese when their children were six- and ten-months-old babbled 43% over
two days, whereas infants of parents not coached in parentese babbled only 30%.
In other words, those who used parentese got more engagement with and responses
from their infants. And, at 14-months-old, the children of parents who used
parentese produced significantly more words than children of parents who did
not use parentese. That’s the result at 14-months. The impact of learning “parentese”
continues even into elementary school and beyond. Other studies have shown early
language skills predict a child’s learning to read and success in school.
So, if you have an infant at home…or if you have a family friend who has an infant, why not learn the language of infants, parentese? (If you need a little tutoring lesson on parentese, check out this short video.) When you do, you will help them learn the flow of conversation and the art of engagement. You enhance their production of speech. You contribute to their future reading and success in school. Who knows, learning and practicing parentese might just start a whole learning revolution.
I remember the advice given to me as
my children approached their teen years. “Whatever you do, maintain open
communications with your teen.” Sure, I thought. Great idea. But, how do
you do that? After some research and trial by fire (both my
“children” are now in their early twenties) I have a few suggestions,
ideas that can help keep those lines of communication open with your teen. I
must admit, these ideas were often in opposition to my first impulse, but, when
I was able to implement them, they really helped keep those lines of
When your children or teens come to
you with a desire to talk about something, give
them your full attention. Put down the paper. Turn off the TV. Don’t check
your messages or respond to a text. Don’t google. Just give your them your
attention. Look at them and listen. Watch their expressions. Listen to the tone
of the voice. Hear what they are saying and understand the emotions behind the
They will say things that make you want to jump out of your skin. Don’t do it.
At some point they will say something that triggers your core fears. They may even
say things that hurt, feel like an attack, or arouse your anger. But, if you
want them to continue talking about it and then listen to your response, stay
calm. Remember, sometimes our teens just need to think out loud. Let them do it
in your earshot. When you overreact, they will shut down. If you stay calm,
they are more likely to continue talking, thinking, processing, and even
Listen. When you
want to give a suggestion, listen instead. When you want to criticize, listen a
little more. When you think you understand, listen to make sure you really do. Don’t “spray” them with questions. Instead, use
your questions wisely and sparingly to gain a greater understanding of what
they are saying, what it means to them, and how they think about it. Listen and
repeat back to them what you think they are saying until they know you
understand. Then you can offer advice. But, even in offering advice, keep your
words to a minimum and then…listen.
Grace is the willingness to put aside our own agenda to become a present
witness to the agenda of our children and teens. Put aside your own fears in
order to create a safe haven in which your teen can express themselves without
judgment. Put aside your own ego and create a secure sanctuary where your teens
can voice their fears and anxieties to someone they know will strive to
understand them. Doing so will build a home environment in which they feel
comfortable talking to us…and they will talk with us in that environment.
To summarize these 4 tips, I want to share a
quote from Kenneth Ginsburg, co-founder of the Center for Parent and Teen
Communication at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “The parents who
know the most and who have the most influence over their child’s academics and
behaviors aren’t the ones who ask lots of questions. They are often the ones
who are the least reactive and who express warm, unconditional love and
support.” Put these tips into action today. They are not easy, but you’ll
be glad you did.
Many parents assess their parenting
skills based on their children’s behavior, successes, and achievements. They
base their parental identity and parental success on their children’s
performance in academics, sports, or the arts. You might be surprised, but these
are terrible measures of parental identity and parental skills. After all,
children misbehave. That does not mean we failed. As children become adults,
some of them make bad choices with lasting consequences. That does not
necessarily mean we were “bad parents.” After all, children have a
mind of their own. Still, parenting has a huge impact on our children. So, how
can we measure our parenting? How can we determine our parental success? How can
we develop a healthy parental identity? I have a suggestion. We can ask
ourselves a few questions in three basic areas. Our answers to those questions
can help us assess our parenting and determine our parental identity. So,
assess your parenting. Ask yourself:
Do I have a relationship with my child? (Realize the relationship you have with your children will
change over time. You will also have times in that relationship when you feel
closer than others. You will even experience times when they are angry with
you. But the question remains an important question: Do I have a relationship with my child?)
Am I available?
Am I approachable?
Am I respectful of their emotions?
Do I listen well? Do they know I strive to understand them?
Do I express my love for my children explicitly?
Do I provide a healthy, age appropriate structure in our
home and my child’s life?
Do my children know the limits and expectations?
Do I allow my children to experience the limits?
Do I hold my children accountable for their actions?
Can I allow my children to suffer the negative consequences
of their behavior?
Do I say what I mean and mean what I say?
Do I set a positive example for my children?
Do I set a good example in self-care?
Do I set a good example in accepting limits and
Do I set a good example in expressing gratitude?
Do I set a good example in admitting my mistakes and making
Do I set a good example in managing my emotions?
In all these areas—relationship, structure, and example—am I
I don’t know about you, but I find these
questions both reassuring and convicting: reassuring because I believe I do fairly
well in several areas and convicting because I fall short in some areas. I need
to work at improving in the areas where I exhibit weakness…which leads me to
one last question: Do you love your
children? If you love your children, you will continue to grow in the areas
listed above and you will remember that when you fall short “Love covers a
multitude of sins” (Peter in 1 Peter 4:8).
I remember it well. Days of rolling easy
as a parent would suddenly come crashing down as our children took a sudden, sharp
turn into Crazy Land (I hope they’re not reading this). To make matters worse,
we could rarely identify any reason for the sudden shift in behavior…but shift
it did! Our kind, caring, well-behaved children suddenly became emotional
quagmires of tears, irritability, and demands. Minor acts of defiance often
followed. Entitlement and selfish expectations increased. The change was mysterious, a painstaking step
off a cliff into an abyss of emotional turmoil. Even though they would push us
away at these times, we knew they needed us to pull them closer. Although they
would push against the limits, we knew they needed us to reinforce the limits
with kind firmness. In other words, they needed us to give them a S.E.A.T.
Set the limits. Restate the limits with kind firmness. Remain polite, but don’t cave. Don’t give in. Children need limits, especially when they seem to be melting down. Give them the gift of security by restating and maintaining firm limits in a manner that reveals your own self-control and confidence as a parent (even if you don’t feel it at the moment). They need the strength of your confidence and self-control, the power of your composure during the chaos of limit setting to help them learn how to manage their own emotions as they mature.
Empathize with your children. You can empathize with your children’s frustration over the limit (“You’re really upset that I told you to turn off your game and set the table. It’s hard to stop playing sometimes but I’d like you to help get the table ready for dinner.”). You can empathize with your children by acknowledging their tears, their frustration, and even their anger. Empathizing is not allowing behaviors. It is simply accepting and understanding the pain they feel. Empathizing with your children allows you to connect with them. Even if they don’t acknowledge the connection, know you have connected through empathy…and that connection increases your credibility in their eyes.
Accept their emotions. They may get angry. They may break down in tears. They may simply shut down. No matter what, accept their emotion. Emotions in and of themselves are a sign of our shared humanity. They help reveal our priorities. You can set limits with the emotions such as “You can be angry with me, but we don’t hit” or “It’s alright to be upset with me, but you can’t call people names.” Even as you set the limit, accept the emotion and remain present. Let your presence communicate that you are stronger than their emotion. Your children will learn this important lesson: even in the face of scary emotions that make them feel out of control, you are in control. You are a safe haven. You are more powerful than their worst emotions and you will keep them safe.
Team up. As you children begin to calm down, reconnect. Hug them. Make sure they know you still love them. Talk about what happened and how they might avoid a similar problem in the future. This may include changes the parent can make, changes the children can make, and changes in communication. In other words, problem solve together.
As you go through this process with
your children you will have given them a S.E.A.T.
and the confidence they need to manage their emotions and behaviors better in