Does your teenage daughter complain that you yell at or interrogate her when she tells you something, so she avoids talking to you? When your college-age son shares his thoughts or decisions do you react, shall we say, dramatically?
When your teenager or young adult speaks or behaves in a way that triggers anxiety and disappointment, do you feel helpless because you don’t know how to react? And when you react does it only make things worse?
During turbulent times, you want to rise to the challenge in a manner that will increase your connection and influence with your children. You want to respond in a way that builds your relationship and increases trust.
Here is a ten-step program to empower yourself to feel calm, confident and loving when engaging with your teen or young adult.
After an interaction with your child, as soon as you can, create quiet time for yourself and go through each step. I strongly suggest writing down your responses. As you continue practicing the steps you’ll be able to run through them in seconds and do them in “real time.”
While internalizing the steps, I also suggest that you choose a neutral response to your child, such as,” Thank you for telling me. I need time to think about that. I’ll get back to you in ___ minutes/hours/days.” If you promise a response, make sure to follow-through in a timely manner. This in itself will change the dynamic.
Step one: Breathe. Seriously, breathe. When something happens and you feel a reaction bubbling up inside you, when the anxiety flares, find that sliver of space between whatever you just thought and felt – and reacting – and BREATHE. Take two more breathes for good measure.
(Oh, and when I say breathe, I don’t mean sigh loudly and dramatically. Kids notice and interpret.)
At first, until these steps become second nature to you, even if you don’t recall all the steps as an event is happening, do Step One.
Always do Step One.
Step two: What happened? Precisely, what did your child do or not do? Say or not say? “Precisely” means without your interpretation. Just the facts, Ma’am.
Step three: What are the feelings and the emotions?
With what physical feelings did you react? Stomach clench? Heart drop?
Lump in your throat?
Identify the emotions: Fear, anxiety, anger, helplessness, guilt, sadness, exasperation, shock?
Step four: Take a step back and find another sliver of space between the event (what your child did or said) and the feeling and emotion you experienced. Pry open that space, peek in and find the thought you had in reaction to the event. What was your interpretation? This thought about the event, your interpretation of it, triggered your feeling and emotion.
Step five: Take that thought out of the crevice and look at it in the light of day. This thought, or belief, led to your feeling. How true is this thought? What other thoughts or interpretations are available to you? Find alternative positive or neutral thoughts (beliefs) about the event. You don’t need proven facts, consider anything possible. The point is to open your mind to alternatives.
Step six: Choose an alternative neutral or positive thought about the event. Try it out in your mind as your belief about the event. Now how do you feel?
Different thought->different feeling.
Try on another belief for fun. Keep practicing.
Step seven: Breathe again. Allow the calmer feelings to wash over you.
Step eight: List at least ten of your child’s wonderful attributes: skills, talents, abilities achievements, intelligences and positive traits.
Keep adding to the list whenever you can. Review the list at least once a day.
Step nine: Stop reading your kid’s mind.
After practicing steps one through nine on a daily basis for at least one week you may attempt the next step.
Step ten: Your child says or does something. You run through steps one through nine quickly in your head and then from a calm, confident and loving place you CHOOSE how you will or won’t react. And then you do.
Be curious about what happens next. Write it down later and think about it. What did you discover? What went well and what needs improvement? What did you benefit?
Don’t expect perfection or miracles. Remember you are re-building trust with your child that she can communicate with you…calmly. Rome wasn’t built in a day.