We published an article about a conflict between a mother and her teenage daughter. When her daughter insisted she was taking the car keys and leaving, she wrestled her to the ground to get the keys from her. Needless to say, it was not her finest hour as a parent. The experience left the mother unsettled, wondering how she could have been a calm parent.
Amy Speidel, parenting coach and Conscious Discipline Instructor, explained exactly why the situation was so explosive. She also offered some practical advice for what parents can do in these trying moments.
Sometimes life is just messy, so if you’ve had one of those wrestling moments (literally or metaphorically), you’re not alone! When emotions peak, anything can happen. That is because all our values, morals and reasonable resources reside in the executive function of the brain. However, the emotional state, when triggered, dumps them in favor of a more immediate solution: Losing it.
When your teen defies your decision and takes the reins, it is often triggers us to pronounce, “Oh no, you did not just do that (say that)!”
Here’s the thing. Every action is met with a reaction that furthers or shifts the first action. So if you respond with force, it is likely to be met with even more force.
Since teens crave control of their decisions, their possessions – their lives – meeting that drive with even more control will never go well.
Calm Parenting: How Not to Lose It With Your Kids
Here are a few calm parenting strategies to take in the heat of the moment:
Just do it. Breathe a couple of times, slowly and purposefully. You will be opening up your executive function so that you can respond with all your best tools at your disposal, and three deep breathes take about 30 seconds, so take the time!
2. Start with them
We tend to respond with why they shouldn’t—shouldn’t say that, expect that, believe that, whatever the story is, we tend to want to combat it. Don’t. Start by seeing the situation from their perspective. It is the only perspective that makes sense to them in that moment so join it. “No wonder you feel cheated right now. You had the whole evening planned and you were really counted on this.” (There will likely be pushback – so BREATHE again). “It is frustrating when things don’t work out. It’s important that we resolve this so that you’ll be able to use the car when it’s available but also be respectful of the times it is not.”
3. Wish you and your child well
You don’t need to say anything out loud, but push your brain to want the best in this situation.
4. Make a plan
With teens two things are important. First, that , as a calm parent, you have time to think through a reasonable consequence and not jump to “I’ll take your phone” and second, the uncertainty of what will befall them should they leave is, well, a compelling reason to not go.
They may test it, and that is fine. Just make sure you follow through. The consequence would likely be a loss of car privileges until they are clear about how and when they can have the car (or whatever they’re demanding).
Once you have a plan, here is what you can say to your teen: “If you choose to give me the keys now, we will work out a schedule so that you’ll know in advance, as much as possible, when the car will be available. If however, you still insist on leaving, there will be a consequence for that, because that is not how this family operates. I’ll give you a minute so you can think it through.”
Move away from your teen and give them space to make the decision and maintain their personal power.
Do not state what the consequence will be. This is different than with young children.
If they hand the keys back to you (or throw them or slam them down on the table), just continue to wish them well (see #3). Any moralizing at this point is lost.
Do however, briefly refer to it later by just noting it. You can say something like, “That took a lot of self-control to turn that around.” Your words should indicated that you recognize their growth. Don’t say “I’m so proud of you” or “I’m glad you decided to be reasonable” or actually ANY sentence that begins with the word “I.” It’s not about you. It’s about what they chose to do – and yay for them!
If they storm out, wish them well (again see #3). Maybe you can even send a text to say something like “Hope you are safe. We’ll obviously be having a discussion about this at some point.”
Then follow through. What makes sense? What will help them learn to be a better team player and a wiser decision maker? What will help them grow up? If you focus on building for the future instead of on your irritation, change will happen.