#5 Rule of Scouting- be prepared!

March 26, 2008 at 9:42 pm | Posted in Rules of Engagement | Leave a comment
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If there is one group of people that have possibly the greatest power to push adults to the brink of insanity, it is teens. They are persistent, they are stubborn and they can seem so cock sure of themselves. They know how to press your buttons- they know how to make you scream, they know how to make you crumple in defeat. They can play you better than Roger Federer plays tennis, and they won’t be as mild mannered about it either! Teenagers are experts on how to bring the worst out of their parents or professionals, particularly when it serves their ends.

So when you are trying to change some aspect of their behaviour do not go in there expecting it to be a breeze. Do that and you will get a rude surprise when you discover yourself in the middle of a hurricane. Instead you need to take the time to think about what you want to achieve and how you are going to achieve it. You need to go in there with a strategy, a plan of campaign. You need to have thought of every possible response you are going to get from your teen and have a counter-strategy.

For example, if your teen is staying out way too late and you want to get them to come in earlier you need to follow this formula, which applies to all issues:

  1. Define your goal– what time do you want them in by at the latest? If you are woolly with your teen then you can be sure that they will stretch the wool until there is enough to make a sweater. Be clear.
  2. Know what the consequences of non-compliance will be. You will need to have a range- the one that you think will work, may not ultimately. Obviously as a first stop on trying to sort this out you may not need to make threats and consequences, it may only need a conversation. However the next level is when you are having to dig your heels in, and this is when a consequence that is going to bother them needs to kick in. If they get allowance / pocket money, then dock that if they don’t come home on time. However if they are not money-motivated then this will not work. You know your child, you know what is going to hit them where it hurts.
  3. Be consistent. If you make a threat about what the consequences will be if they do not comply then you MUST MUST MUST be true to your word. If not then you might as well throw out your doormat and lay yourself down in the hall so that they can wipe their feet all over you. They will not take you seriously if you do not follow through.
  4. Be persistent. They may well come home late for the rest of the week, but they are just testing whether you mean what you say regarding consequences. If they realise you mean business then they are not going to persist. The base line principle is that you have to be more persistent than they are. This is tiring, it can send you nearly loopy but it will work.
  5. Adapt. If you are being persistent and consistent but are not getting anywhere, then consider whether you have got the consequence right. If they don’t care for the consequence then the incentive to do what you want them to is limited. Think of it this way, if you knew that every single time you ate chocolate that your skin turned green and stayed that way for a week, then you wouldn’t do it. However if every single time you got a small little green spot on your left buttock then you’d probably keep eating! It’s all about impact. What is the impact of your consequence going to be on your child? It may be that you need to up the ante. Have a back up plan in case your original one does not work out.
  6. Stay calm. When enforcing your consequences, do not blow your top- they won’t listen. Be calm but firm. If your teen sees that you adopting this technique is paining you, then they are going to be thinking that the longer they test you for, the more likely you are to crack and give in and they will keep on testing you! So you need to go into this all with a plan as to how you are going to keep yourself calm. This might mean not addressing the fact that they waltzed in at the dead of night until the following morning when you are in a better frame of mind. It might mean that instead of sitting there stewing while waiting for them to come in, that you do something that relaxes you, like having a good read in the bath. Fair enough, you might not be as relaxed as you would usually be after such an activity, but at least you will be more relaxed than you would otherwise have been.
  7. Think through what buttons they will try and press and have strategies to resist! For example, does your teen play the guilt card (“you just don’t understand. If you realised how stressed I am then you’d let me spend more time with my friends”), or the mega tantrum card (“If I go around your living room and smash your favourite vase then you’ll know that I not going to give in and will do what the hell I want”) . Again, you know your kid, think through what their likely responses are and have a counter-strategy
  8. Don’t let your guard down too soon! Their is a particular breed of teenager that will play the compliant one, but only for a limited time before reverting to previous behaviour. They might be compliant from the beginning and wait until you are not really paying any attention, and start doing the same thing again, often behind your back. On the other hand you might have had to go through the process above, finally think you have cracked the problem, let your guard down and then they revert. In which case you need to be clear, consistent and persistent with your consequences at once, or again they will think you are a walkover. Usually the return to old behaviour will happen fairly soon after you think you have cracked it, so keep your radar on for the first few weeks at least. This is fair enough and is all about establishing trust over this particular issue. However if they have earned your trust and you are still prowling around months later, then they may come to resent you and will rebel.

Teens test you for a number of reasons. First, to see if by being difficult you will give up so they can carry on as before and second, to see if you care. Very difficult teens who have had very difficult experiences in life will often test parents, carers and professionals to the absolute limits because they don’t actually believe that anybody really cares about them. They are expecting you to give up on them so they test you to see how much you care. If you follow the steps above however, then that young person will know that you care, else why would you bother? Why would you persist? It may take a long time for the most difficult teens but if you follow the formula it does work.

It will be tough and it does take effort. If we enforce these boundaries / changes in behaviour it shows that we want the best for our teens and they will eventually see that. It is when there are no boundaries that a young person will feel unloved. No greater love was there than this, that a parent / carer/ professional went through a challenging process to do the best for a child. If you ‘adminster’ the process well by being prepared then the more quickly and easily the benefits of the change in behaviour will be seen by all. The rough doesn’t just go with the smooth, it makes the smooth.


#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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