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Tame your Teenager with Kindness

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Lesley McCall

Autumn 2016

Tame your teenager with kindness!


So you have a teenager – have you signed up for an anger management course? Run screaming from the room? Considered adoption? No? Then you are doing well. Teenagers have a dreadful reputation and in some cases it’s well deserved.

I have two teenagers and people assume that because I am a therapist, who specialises in teenagers, that my house is a haven of sweetness and light … I wish!

Kindness is sometimes the key to diffusing that bomb of hormones, anger and drama that lives in your house and eats all your food. I know it’s hard to be kind to a smug know-it-all but remember what teenagers face! peer pressure, exam stress, hormones and a brain that is flooded with the same chemicals as when you are in the first throws of
passionate love …. enough said.

Needless to say reasoned and logical argument doesn’t always bring out the best in teenagers… and there is a best.

Teenagers are enthusiastic, believe in the impossible, ignore obstacles and are capable of unconditional love. They are our future.

So how to get them and you through those years when half of you is incredibly proud of them and the other half wants to punch them hard in the face?

Kindness can have a powerful effect on teenagers.

Take them off guard! The unexpected cup of tea and a slice of cake when they are studying, the smile and ‘I love you ‘when they have been stroppy, and responding to negativity with positivity – ‘I hate you’… ‘well tough because I love you!’

If you can do it, the best way to diffuse an argument is with kindness. ‘I understand you are upset but I want to help you if you will let me.’ It takes them off stride and actually, at heart, they still need love and approval no matter what they say.

Kindness is a powerful reward for good behaviour.

Of course you shouldn’t reward bad behaviour with approval. Kindness should not be given to reinforce behaviour that is bad. It is like when they were toddlers and we put them on the naughty step or rewarded good behaviour with attention, that still works. Kindness is a powerful reward.

Another form of kindness is honesty. It is easy to fall into the habit of placating a teenager – it’s easier than fighting with them, but it’s good for them to be treated as an adult even when they don’t behave as one. Honesty is kind in some circumstances, like when they don’t shower enough and those hormones get a little pungent. Sometimes someone has to tell them and its kinder coming from you rather than a friend who might not be so tactful. They may not agree or act on your advice but be honest anyway.

Despite not seeming to, teenagers do learn by example.

They are making choices based on a variety of inputs, friends, online social networks, teachers, girlfriends/boyfriends …. and you. Surprisingly you do have a massive influence on the path your teenager takes. They won’t be forced, bribed or bullied into anything but they will learn by example. So show them how to be kind, to friends, to partners to themselves. It doesn’t always come naturally to them because teenagers can be very self-absorbed so thinking about the needs of others is not easy for them, but it’s not impossible. So show kindness to them and the people around you and notice and praise kindness in them. Point out when they are being thoughtful and look for opportunities to congratulate them on mature behaviour. Above all show them that kindness brings rewards and if you fail to do this then forgive yourself and try again.

This brings me onto the most important part of kindness and teenagers, be kind to yourself. Raising teenagers can be frustrating, worrying and exhausting so give yourself a chance.

It is tempting to try and be the perfect parent, to sacrifice too much of yourself and end up stressed and unhappy, to be too hard on yourself when you ‘fail’ and to put their needs ahead of your own all the time.

Never forget you are their rock, in the chaos of teenage years’ parents are the security they cling to. If you collapse they lose that, so taking care of yourself is really taking care of them. It’s the same principle as when you are on a plane and they tell you to put your oxygen mask on before helping anyone else. If you are drowning and you try to help someone else, you both drown faster. So don’t forget to consider your own welfare, your health and your happiness as well as theirs.

Leave them to make their own mistakes, otherwise they won’t grow and mature. It is actually a kind thing to do in the long run even if it doesn’t feel like that. If we always run to their aid they won’t grow strong. Every difficulty overcome, every mistake builds resilience and resilience is happiness.

Remember that you can’t control everything.

Remember that you can’t control everything around them and you will make yourself unhappy if you try or worry about it. Give yourself a break and let go of what is no longer under your influence and concentrate on what you can make a difference to.

Reset each day and forgive yourself.

Nobody is perfect, nobody does it right all the time. There is saying I love ‘Behind every successful child is a parent worried that they are not doing enough’. If you feel you should be a better parent and be doing more, then the chances are you are doing fine. We all know what we ‘should’ be do- ing and how we ‘should’ be doing it but faced with an unreasonable, pouting teenager who knows exactly what buttons to push to wind you up it’s hard not to be emotional.

The problem is that when we are thinking emotionally we are not capable of logical thinking. It is normal to not be reasonable all the time, we can’t be the perfect parent all the time. People pretend – on Facebook – in conversations – if somebody says they have perfect kids then they need help! Also if you are a perfect parent then that is a lot for your kids to live up to! Be kind, let your children know you are human once in a while.

So take time out to remember the good stuff, the times they have surprised you with kindness, the times they have been thoughtful. It is a chance to store up some positive memories against the difficult times. It’s not all bad and this is where you forge strong bonds with your children that make them your friends for life.

However difficult it is never give up, never stop trying, it’s worth it.

The only failure is giving up. Always remember that kindness is a gift, a gift to you, a gift to them and something they will thank you for teaching them.