#4 Rule of Patience

March 17, 2008 at 9:14 pm | Posted in Rules of Engagement | Leave a comment
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Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a brand new relationship or a new phase in an existing relationship. If you are trying to overcome some issue with a teen and improve your relationship with them, don’t expect too much too soon. If you rush it, then you are less likely to succeed.

Slowly but surely is the approach to take, with praise being offered at every opportunity where a young person has made a positive change. A common mistake that I have seen parents make is witholding praise until “they have proven to me that they can keep it up”, or “He’ll just end up falling back into his old ways. I want to be sure that the change is here to stay first”. Valid thoughts, yes, as so many parents are veterans of nine minute wonder changes in behaviour (“They were great yesterday but it all went down the plughole today. She’s just as bad as before”). Yes there will be ups and downs, but if your teen gets exactly the same response from you when they do something well as when they are a nightmare, what’s the incentive to change? If change is going to be achieved and be long lasting then everyone in the relationship needs to be seeing the benefits! If you went to the gym 7 days a week and were as flabby as when you didn’t go, you wouldn’t continue going would you? It wouldn’t be worth the effort! In the same way, a teenager is not going to persist with the effort of changing their behaviour unless they see why it is worth putting in that effort. So praise at every opportunity when they are doing well is worth it- it incentivises good behaviour and makes it way more likely that they will continue on the behaviour-changing journey.

It is also vitally important that you set realistic expectations of how quickly you will see positive results and how consistent that change in behaviour will be. It may take several weeks of consistently applying a new boundary or dealing with a common situation in a new way to see any discernible change.

For example, this could occur when dealing with anger eruptions. You might find that you usually deal with your teen’s anger outbursts by shouting back at them. You may adopt a new approach of letting them have their strop without responding and asking them to go away and cool off before having a calmer discussion about the issue later on. It may take a couple of weeks for the teen to deal with the fact that they are not getting a shouting response. A fair proportion of teens will actually be having angry outbursts because they know it will push your buttons and your not rising to their bait may well end up winding them up even more intially. However if you rigidly stick to your guns then they will eventually realise that there is no point blowing their top, as it is getting them nowhere. If instead they realise that they can get you to listen better by approaching you in a calmer way, then they will. After all, if they are having anger outbursts then it is often to get your attention and if they can get better quality attention by being calm and rational then that is what they will do. Teenagers are masters and mistresses of minimal effort, maximum gain! However they are also prone to erratic behaviour and while they may take three steps forward, two steps back every now and again is to be expected. However as long as progress is being made, then it is all worthwhile. So it is key to praise them every time they have responded well, and even if they do slip up, to refer them back to the times when they did deal with a situation well and encourage them to use that method again pointing out all the benefits. Don’t throw in the towel at the first hurdle just because you had unrealistic expectations- that way you get nowhere! This also equally applies to you- you may well slip up yourself, for example falling back into the old anger outburst response of shouting back. You are not perfect either and you should cut yourself some slack. Make sure however that if you slip up that you admit it to your teen and commit to doing better yourself. That way they learn that it is not a disaster if they slip up and if they take responsibility, that all is not lost and you can still move forward. This is powerful role-modelling.

Be patient with them, be patient with yourself, offer praise whenever possible for better behaviour, be realistic and expect some hiccups on the way and you will have far greater success than if you are impatient and unrealistic. Focus on the positives and the positives will keep on coming. Before you know it, you will see more of the positive than the negative and you will have a long-lasting behaviour change on your hands, most likely for both you and them.

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