Does your pushing, coaxing and forcing your teen to clean up after herself fall on deaf ears?
When my son leaves a sluemesses in his wake it can be downright maddening!
When you spill milk, wipe up after yourself, who do you thinks going to do it? What’s the dirty laundry doing on the floor? It’s no wonder you can’t find any clean socks, your dirty ones are scattered throughout the house!
Unfortunately these “helpful reminders” do little to change his behavior.
My nagging is driven by two fears…
the fear that this kid will grow into an unemployed, slovenly 40 year old,
the fear that I’m raising an entitled kid who thinks, “why should I look for my socks when magically another pair will appear in my drawer?
In today’s story, Tammy, school principal, parenting educator, and parent, shares what she learned as a result of her battles with her perennially messy daughter.
My daughter Natasha has no issue with living in a messy room.
However, I do, so we made an agreement, years ago, that Sunday would be her cleanup day.
I found myself getting upset and refusing to enter her untidy room to say goodnight or even hangout with her.
She’d say, Mom, I’m internally organized so it doesn’t bother me to be a mess externally.
I told her it bothers me, and the rest of the family, so we need a plan to address the group’s desire for organization.
For the past four years, I’d go into Natasha’s room on Sunday mornings and ask her, what’s your plan for cleaning your room today?
Her response was usually, I’ll get to it eventually, or I’m on it. But there’d be no signs of movement.
On a good day I’d say something like, would you like me to help you get started? or I have faith in you to get it done.
She’d respond, I like doing it myself, or thanks for believing in me Mom. Five hours later she’d still be cleaning her room – looking pretty miserable.
On these so called “good” days while I wasn’t effective at motivating her, I wasn’t pushing her away.
On other days – let’s call them the bad days – I’d go into my mommy tirade and say things like, “how can you live in this pigsty?” “It’s disgusting in here!”
Here’s why her messy room was painful for our entire family.
My negative energy put the entire family on edge – they’d slink away into their own worlds for fear of crossing paths with my anger.
The unspoken truth was that my tornado of frustration and anger was far worse then her the physical mess.
One day it struck me that I was the one who needed to change. I couldn’t MAKE her do anything so I backed off as best I could.
Then it happened – one Sunday morning was different. She woke up, had breakfast, cleaned and organized her room in an hour and had the rest of the day to read, play, do homework, paint pumpkins, go with me to the market, etc. I hadn’t said a word to her because by the time I peeked into her room, she was already in motion.
It dawned on me that this is how growth happens – for me it was a slow process – for her it seemed to happen overnight!
First what changed was me and what followed was a chance for Natasha to grow, at her own pace. I would like to think that our positive communication, over the years, those good days, helped to motivate her to finally clean her room on her own but I’ll never know for sure.
Whatever clicked for Natasha wasn’t as important as what clicked for me: I can’t “make her” do anything, but I can certainly encourage her and maintain a respectful way of communicating while she learns. It’s the process in which she learned how to care for her own things that mattered not the urgency for her to learn on my time line.
Back on that day when I saw her room was clean, I was shocked to say the least but tried to play it cool. I looked at her with a knowing, loving smile and said, “I notice you got your room clean today…how’s it feel?”
She looked so proud of herself and said simply, “If feels great!”
When you find yourself freaking out that your teen is a slob and fear they’ll still be one at 64, remember Tammy’s story. Being human, Tammy reacted in anger sometimes AND sometimes she was able, through self-awareness, to step back.
To me, it’s a testament to having faith in our kids.
There’s no magic fairy dust to MAKE them adopt your priorities. Your most powerful tool is CONNECTION.
Recommendations to foster and maintain your connection with your teen:
Treat her with respect and when you don’t feel respected – as calmly as you can let her know you will speak with her at another time when she can be respectful – leave the room to give yourself breathing room.
Apologize when you’re off your game, modeling that even you make mistakes so she can more readily admit and take responsibility for her mistakes.
Create boundaries so that the mess is confined to your teens room.
Allow nature to take it’s course – don’t rescue her when items are lost, dirty, etc.
Take time to train your adolescent to do her own laundry – this way her entire clothing cycle is her responsibility and even better, you can have empathy when her favorite shirt is dirty.
Remember that your child has different priorities than you do and that that is a good thing!
When you do your best to model what you value; respect, connection, and in this case, tidiness and communication – you’ll more likely see these qualities bloom, in their own way and time, in your developing adolescent.
What power struggle are you currently having? Share in the comment section below what you learned here that will support you.
If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!
It’s a typical morning, nothing out of the ordinary.
The boys haven’t brushed their teeth and I’m yelling, BRUSH! And then Get your rears in the car NOW.
It feels like we do this every. Single. Day.
When I get in the car, I feel like a real heel – this isn’t how I want my boys to get off to school in the morning. Yelling let’s go, let’s go, let’s gooooo! – Probably isn’t the most inspirational start to their day.
Sound familiar? Are bells ringing? Would you prefer mornings with your kids be fueled by calm cooperation instead of high-volume threats, pleas and crazy-making?
Quick story about how I got the idea for scripts. In a recent parenting class I was role-playing a conversation, between a parent and teen, using Positive Discipline tools. The teenager, played by a parent volunteer, was forgetting to take out the garbage. (Been there?)
As our demo came to an end, an observing parent vigorously raised her hand, “You were going really fast just then and I’m not sure what happened but it sounded awesome. Could you go through it again but this time slowly so I can understand?”
I’ve fashioned these scripts to support you – they’re like training wheels to get you over that bumpy patch in the road. At first, they may feel a little stiff or clunky – just like training wheels – but it’s worth giving them a try. Especially if you leave the house in the morning shaking your head (or crying), wondering why parenting is so darn hard.
The Conversation Guide slows down the parent child interaction. Think of it as parenting in slow motion, word by word, so you can rewind at any time.
It’s true, there are many ways to parent that fit with the Positive Discipline principles. My hope is that the four approaches I’ve offered here give you confidence to find your own genuine parenting voice. One that’s both kind and firm – respectful of your child and yourself.
Okay, back to my morning with the boys… what could I have done differently? Let’s see what happens when I ask a question instead of yelling demands at them.
“Guys, what do you need to do before you get in the car for school?” They actually mumble “brush our teeth…”
“Yes, great, I’ll meet you in the car when you’re done.”
Does that sound too easy? With enough repetition, time and the resulting trust, it works.
And if you get zero response to your question – or just eye-rolling – you can calmly let them know you’ve decided to wait in the car until they’re ready (take a good book so you’re doing something pleasurable while you serenely wait).
You know those times when you’ve just got to get your child to do something important (go to the doctor, to swim class, the dentist…) and she/he refuses to cooperate? Then you think, “Why can’t they just get with the program this one time? Why does everything have to be so hard?”
Well, let me introduce Susan, mother of 9 year-old Alex, and a recent graduate of my 7-week parenting class. In this story, Susan shares the remarkable shift that happens when she uses tools she learned in the series. Without giving too much away, here are the two conversations (with very different outcomes) between Susan and Alex:
BEFORE taking Positive Discipline Class
Susan: “Hey Alex, Dad and I forgot to tell you – Swim lessons start today, so you need to get ready to go.”
Alex: (Playing with Legos) “What? I don’t want swim lessons! You know I hate lessons!”
Susan: “Alex, learning how to swim is really important – it’s about safety.”(Susan begins to feel angry and thinks, “What’s so hard about going to swim class? Swimming is great. This should be fun. Why is it so difficult?”)
Alex: “I don’t want to.”(He starts to crush his elaborate Legocreations). “I’m not going.”(He sits defiantly on the couch.)
Susan: “Swim lessons are a privilege, young man. That’s enough of your whining. Stop it. Now!”
Alex: “You never ask me what I want – I HATE YOU!”
Susan: (Thinking… “I hate this. I hate how hard it is to motivate my son. Forget it, I give up.”) She stomps off to another room to grab the swim gear.
Susan: “We paid for this class. Now get up and get to the car!”
Susan and Alex are both miserable and swim lesson does not go well.
AFTER taking Positive Discipline Class
Susan: (Taking some time beforehand to prepare herself.) “Hey Alex, Dad and I forgot to tell you but you’ve got swim lessons today. I’m really sorry that we’re springing this on you, but we gotta go now. I’ve got your swim gear and a snack for the car.”
“Both of these Positive Discipline Tool Cards were key. I feel I learned the most about the power of validating feelings!“
Alex: “What? I don’t want swim lessons! You know I hate lessons!”
Susan: “Honey, you only have to go four times and we found a new place where there are fewer kids so you’ll be able to hear better.” (She shows remorse for not giving him any warning and feels empathy for him, knowing that while he hates lessons, he actually loves to swim.)
Alex: “I don’t want to!” (He starts to crush his Lego creations.) “I’m not going.” (Alex plops himself defiantly on the couch.)
Susan: “Alex, sweetie, I know this is upsetting, but destroying your Legos is not OK. You can hit a pillow if you’re angry.” (She allows him to express his feelings. She calmly and firmly tells Alex that swim lessons are something he just needs to do. Susan uses only one or to sentences instead of lecturing him.)
(Alex violently hits the pillow. Susan leaves the room. Then she remembers that staying with him might feel encouraging to him. She goes back and keeps him company but doesn’t try to fix or change his feelings.)
Susan: (After some time has passed, speaking gently…) “Honey, it’s time to go.” (Alex gets up and together, they walked to the car. During the drive Susan felt connected to her son through their easy conversation and a palpable sense of calm. Alex even seemed to enjoy the lesson!)
This story’s a beautiful example of how empathy and encouragement go a long way toward winning genuine cooperation. Through her use of grounded positive energy and empathy Susan not only accomplished her goal of getting Alex to his swim lesson, she laid the groundwork for a foundation of trust.
Later she she told me,
It was a tiny miracle that I didn’t lose it and Alex was able to get up to walk to the car. It worked mostly because I didn’t flip my lid. Being there while he hit the pillow actually calmed me down too! Now Alex is doing great with his lessons. He still complains, but there is an ease and matter-of-factness about our interactions.
Yesterday morning I had a simple, accidental revelation with my dexterous 7-year old daughter. Short on time, she decided to have a piece of toast for breakfast. Knowing I’m the best toast-butterer in the world, S. said, “Mom I need butter on my toast – please butter it for me.”
My hands, immersed in sudsy, warm dishwater, scrubbing away at the long-neglected dishes, were not fit to butter toast. The wheels in my mind slowed, I sensed the opportunity at hand and replied empathetically, “Oh honey, my hands are all soapy, I don’t want to ruin your toast.”
Disappointed, S. tried again. “But mom…I’m not good at buttering toast and you’re really good at it!”
“Darn… sorry about that, Sweetie. Just look at these sudsy creatures!” I lifted my hands to show the yucky soapy mess that would envelop her toast.
Suddenly resolute, S. asked, “Okay Mom, where’s the butter?” A minute later with quiet pride she said, “Look Mom, I did it all by myself!”
Sometimes I have to be creative, play a bit silly, a bit incompetent or just plain unavailable, to get my kids to step up and take the initiative on a task well within their grasp or even one that seems a bit out of reach.
Have you had a similar experience? Share it or plan your “incompetence” ahead of time and let us know how you imagine it could encourage your child.
Your comments inform and empower other parents! Examples with kids of all ages encouraged!
While I still offer parent coaching, I’m transitioning the focus of my work to holding writing circles. The circle offers the space for us to more deeply know and connect to our inner wisdom.