As much as we’d like to think that our teen pups are each darling and unique, the truth is that they share some unbecoming common traits. One is speaking rudely at home. And, don’t you just love it when someone tells you that your kid is so polite, has such good manners. Ever wanted to ask if they’ve actually met your kid?
In recent blogs, we’ve been talking about approaches for dealing with those rude dogs. Level 1 intervention involved being tolerant and considered that your teen may need to blow off steam safely at home. Level 2 entailed mirroring your teens’ behavior for them so they can learn to gauge the impact of their tone of voice or facial expression. Level 3 acknowledged that parents and teens actually have to change the way they have been communicating to include mutual respect, differences of opinion and negotiation. But sometimes we need to move to Level 4 when the other levels don’t work or aren’t appropriate.
Level 4 is based on the premise that parents (and siblings) have a right to be treated with regard. It’s important to remember that what we’re talking about here is not just relationships in the family but learning how to treat people (and how to be treated) for a lifetime. Ask yourself, “How will this tone of voice, this mannerism work for him in a future job? With his fraternity brothers? With a girlfriend?” You are teaching skills. At Level 4, we shift gears and become much more intentional and self-controlled (even if what we’d really like to do is to throttle them!) In order to maximize our punch, our communication style changes:
We keep our words to a minimum, no more than three sentences.
We keep our feelings neutral (no crying, no shrieking).
We refrain from swearing, hitting, taunting, humiliating.
We moderate our voice to low and firm.
We minimize distance between ourselves and the kid, not menacingly, but to three to four feet.
We engage eye contact.
In response to a rude outburst, we may say something similar to, “I would never speak like that to you. I do not expect you to speak like that to me. When you are ready to speak respectfully, we can talk about this.” Then walk away. If he follows and continues, you may repeat your message but do not engage further unless the behavior is appropriate. No whining, wheedling, screaming, spitting, hitting, crying, threatening, swearing. Think of this as similar to when they were little and forgot to use “please.” Back then you might have said something like, “I can’t hear you until you use the magic word, ‘please.’ When you can use that, ask again.” No need to be angry; simply do not engage and move away.
One example I recall involved a middle school girl who walked into the kitchen after school one day and demanded imperiously, “Mom, I need a ride to soccer at 4:15. And be on time. Got it!?” The mother, pressed by the needs of several kids, replied,”Get yourself to soccer. I am not in the habit of doing favors for people who treat me badly. Your roller blades and bike are in the garage.” Her daughter sputtered and fumed but the mom went about her business unperturbed.
Sometimes these eruptions can go on for hours, even days. But when there is a lull, you may want to round out your instruction with your teen. During a private, quiet moment, you might say, “I know that you and I had a pretty rough day. When you speak to me that way, you make me look like a fool or a meanie and you make yourself look like a brat. I care for you far too much to allow you to treat people you love like that. I hope tomorrow is a better day for us.”
It has been my experience in parenting that what is cute (like the pups at the top of the page) at age 2, is annoying and needs discipline by 5 and may be illegal by 15. It is a parent’s job, according to Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, to give our kids a road map of reality. The reality is that the world will receive them better, they’ll be more successful, when they learn to manage this behavior.
As your frisky pups get this under better control, they’ll be happier . . . and so will you.