Because teens are learning SOOO much and because they are longing to independently explore their world, they make a lot of mistakes. That’s code for get in trouble or mess up. We worry so much about their safety and decency that sometimes we lose sight of the fact that our end-goal is for them to navigate the world on their own, for them to be self-reliant. Sometimes in the wake of a meltdown (theirs and ours), we realize that we could do better. While these might sound easy, in the heat of the moment…(we get it)! Consider these possibly new ways to respond in a crisis:
Tip 1 – Hit the pause button. Your kid is two hours late for curfew and you can’t decide whether to call the police or their best friend’s house at 1:30 a.m. They come in the door…not in good shape and once again, you can’t decide whether to burst into tears of relief or ground them for six years!
With a flood of emotions, yours and theirs, the possibility of doing something, anything, constructive is unlikely. You’re having trouble even making sense of what’s happening, much less what the priorities are, much less what consequences might be called for.
Hitting the pause button might sound like: “Go to bed. Neither you nor I is in any shape to discuss this constructively tonight. This is not over. We WILL talk it through.” Remember that coming up with discipline which will best shape your kid’s future choices is more important than coming up with expedient discipline. Take your time. Beside, having a sword hanging over your head is its own piece of torture!
Tip 2 – Check your voice, check your face. A colleague in parenting education suggests, never raise your voice above, ‘please pass the salt’. In distressing situations (and when a kid gets in trouble, both kid and parents are distressed no matter how the kid appears), our bodies becomes flooded with crisis hormones. Giving vent to our high emotions by yelling and contorting our faces into masks of rage or fear cranks up those hormones, all but precluding any useful interactions. Remaining clear and calm requires intentional effort. Check your voice; check your face.
Tip 3 – Use these two questions to build consequences meant to help your kid grow up.
If we discipline in the heat of the moment, we are often doing little more than venting our explosive feelings. In our saner, quieter moments, most parents would agree that what we hope for in discipline is to have the kid make the right choice going forward. If a kid knows the right thing but doesn’t do the right thing, parents need to understand the obstacle in order to parent effectively. These two questions can help us “locate” where our kid is on managing the situation. (If you think the questions sound a lot alike, you’re right. They’re both “fishing” for the same thing):
What do you know now that you didn’t understand before this happened?
If we could magically roll the clock back to before this happened, is there anything you’d do differently?
Each of these questions must be delivered in as neutral voice as possible. (watch your voice for sure here!) What we really want to know is: has our kid learned anything? Do they GET it? Sit quietly and patiently because these are deep questions AND because we really want the kid’s thoughts.
If our kid replies with insight and remorse, our consequences may reflect accordingly. If our kid is hostile and belligerent, our consequences will need to reflect the shaping needed. If our kid says, “I don’t know”, a reasonable consequence might be something like, “Well, it is important that when we mess up, we learn from it so we don’t do it again. It is important that you DO know. So, until you can answer those questions (maybe even until you can give me three things you’ve learned…would do differently if the clock could be rolled back), you’re grounded. This could be the shortest grounding in the world; you could go to your room and think about it and come back later today and talk this over with us. Or it could be that you’re grounded until next year. You have messed up. It is important that you figure out what happened and how to not endanger yourself again. Our job is to help you grow up safely and decently.”
Crises by their very nature are a time when a kid is really available to learn. . . the old way isn’t working any more. The heat is on to do better. For that reason, parents need to think about consequences carefully…they can be excellent “shaping tools” to guide your kid onto firm footing again. It begins by checking your face, checking your tone.