In my effort to return to blogging and posting about teens and young adults and their myriad issues beyond head injury and concussion, I am publishing the second installment of a wonderfully elegant piece on communicating with our teenage children.
This article which I am re-naming "Moments of Repair" because I think it is such a lovely thought for all of us to hold onto even when dealing with our adult peers was written by a colleague of mine, the clinical psychologist Kenneth Barish. Dr Barish is Clinical Associate Professor of Psychology, Weill Medical College, Cornell University. He is the author of Pride and Joy: A Guide to Understanding Your Child’s Emotions and Solving Family Problems (Oxford University Press, 2012). Dr Barish and I have shared experiences over the years with families and kids and his advice is always helpful. He is in private practice in Westchester County, New York.
When parents are often angry and critical of their children, children, in turn, become angry and argumentative, stubborn and defiant. Argument begets argument. When we argue frequently with our children, children become good at arguing.
Here are some additional recommendations that have been helpful to many families in beginning to turn around vicious cycles of criticism, argument, and defiance:
· Set aside time, every day, to listen to your child’s concerns.
When we are angry or critical of our children, it is almost always because we have lost patience with them. But we cannot listen patiently - or listen well - when we are tired or hurried; when we are burdened or preoccupied; when we are trying to get things done; or when, at that moment, we are just too angry. Our children, in healthy development, should come to understand this.
In every family, especially when we are anxious and frustrated, parents will become critical and may say hurtful things to their children. At these times, it is important for us to take the lead and begin to repair these hurtful interactions.
In these moments, make a deliberate effort to set aside criticism and judgment as long as you can. Acknowledge your child’s or adolescent’s disappointments, frustrations, and hurt feelings, and every small gesture she makes toward cooperation and compromise. The following advice is important enough to say again: Tell her what is right about what she is saying or doing before you tell her what she is doing wrong.
Children learn invaluable lessons from moments of repair. They learn that, although it is not always easy, moments of anger and misunderstanding are moments, and they can be repaired. This may be the most important lesson we can teach our children, the lesson that is most vital to their emotional health. Disappointments are disappointments. Bad feelings are not forever.
· When you need to criticize, criticize thoughtfully and gently.
Children make mistakes. So do we. Try to be gentle and tolerant in your response to their mistakes, and apologize for your own. If you are willing to acknowledge your mistakes, your teenagers will more willingly acknowledge theirs.
· Express appreciation.
Criticism - and the resentment it creates - although necessary in small doses, is a toxin. Appreciation is the antidote for resentment.
Appreciation is a little bit like oxygen. We can survive with less than optimal oxygen, but we do not survive well. We suffer symptoms - some visible, others insidious. It is the same with appreciation. Without enough appreciation, we begin to suffer vague symptoms - especially diminished enthusiasm - although we may not know what is causing them. Without this psychological oxygen, our minds begin to divert resources and energy, resources that should be used to pursue interests and joy, into self-protective attitudes - defensiveness and demands.
Appreciate every effort on the part of your child at cooperation and concern for others. Simple, genuine expressions of appreciation are often remarkably helpful in softening a child’s intransigence and opening her to collaboration in solving problems. If we say “thank you” to them, they will more often say “thank you” to us.
· Give Them Time
In talking with children about any difficult problem, do not insist on an immediate response. Even minor criticisms evoke defensiveness in most children; a defensive wall quickly comes up. Children (and perhaps, especially adolescents) need time to think about, and eventually accept, our instruction and advice. When you bring up a problem, place the problem before your child, ask her to think about it, and then plan a discussion for the following day. You can always end with, “Let’s talk about this again tomorrow.”
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