BEHAVIOUR MODIFICATION : 4 steps to a solution.
All parents face obstacles in raising Tweens or Teens: No day is like another! If you are like me then you probably find that as soon as you have found a solution for one child then you realise there is something else that needs addressing with another. This is normal parenting!
Sometimes however it is hard to see what the problem actually is. What is the root cause? Why is our child behaving in a certain way and what can we change in order to affect the outcome in not only their life, but in ours too? Isn't it true that when our children are happy and safe then we feel a greater sense of peace?
In working with clients, I listen very carefully to their story. What is being said? What is the root of the manifesting behaviour? Other than treating the fruit (anger, insecurity, identity confusion etc), what is the individual actually reacting to? I break it down into 4 stages:
1. Identify the PROBLEM.
A parent this week wrote about her problem: Her two sons were repeatedly described as good, perfect, kind, honest and even 'angels', BUT she discovered they were JUULing (vaping) in the house and then leaving the mess. She said that it made her feel mad. It triggered anger and even anxiety in her. And rightly so because vaping is on the increase as an addiction in teens, and the dangers go along with the same high nicotine levels as found in cigarettes.
2. Identify the FACTS.
If we break down the narrative we get three parts: A. 'GOOD' teens B. The problem C. The reaction
3. Find the CLUES.
From over 30 years of working with teens, experience has taught me that there are 'hidden clues' that we need to discover when one describes a problem. It isn't necessary only the JUULing here we need to focus on!
Very clearly this parent is proud of her sons. She has also done a fantastic job raising them to be polite, appreciative and kind. She holds them in high esteem, and the adjectives she used to describe them are reflective of her love for them.
BUT those same adjectives are also the clues that help us work out what's going on! In describing them, she wrote the word 'good' 4 times! Have a look at the following statements she made:
"They are such good boys".
"'I mean really good kids".
"Goodness they are angels".
"I am so used to them being so good and following all rules".
Effectively this mother has labelled her sons as the perfect boys, but in doing so has also set them up to fail.
None of us is perfect. None of us will ever be perfect, and actually, it's very unhealthy to be perfect or ever assume we will be.
WHY? Because the most significant measure of a person's success in life is found in the evidence of their ability to grow.
GROWTH means learning. It means; being challenged, being stretched, but also learning patience and overcoming skills which in turn teaches resilience and resourcefulness.
Without growth, human beings die. Physical starvation leads to death, but emotional and psychological deprivation leads to DEPRESSION, SELF-HARM, REBELLION, ANXIETY, SOCIAL DISORDERS, IDENTITY CONFUSION ETC.
In this instance, the pressure to remain 'perfect' could not be sustained! The expectation of perfection led to REBELLION. The boys very clearly knew the house rules but also needed to break them. They were JUULing in their own home and even leaving the mess. (Note they could have been JUULing only outside the home).
Nate Carpenter vice principal at Cape Elizabeth High School in Maine was quoted in the New York Times as saying students describe vaping: “It’s our demon". He said. “It’s the one risky thing that you can do in your life — with little consequence, in their mind — to show that you’re a little bit of a rebel.”
Rebellion is a way for a teen to seek freedom within the confines of rules and expectation. In this instance the boys didn't want always to be good, nor could they be. They needed to be stretched in order the grow. They needed to rebel!
Before finding the strategies for a solution for the problem in this situation, GOOD PARENTING NEEDS TO BE ACKNOWLEDGED! Undoubtedly healthy boundaries had been put into place combined with a tremendous love for these boys. This mum was rightly proud of her sons. She had done an excellent job. All his mum required were a few extra keys to her toolbox through finding strategies to move forward and resolve the conflict.
4. Strategise the SOLUTION.
A. Sit down and discuss the the expectation. In this case, to always be 'good' is not sustainable.
B. Apply appropriate praise for good behaviour "I see you get up by yourself in the mornings". "I recognise that you help your sister with her homework". By doing this, your teen feels empowered.
C. Acknowledge that we can't be 'good' all the time "did you see that I left all the dishes today because I had to rush off to work?" "When I'm feeling overstretched I can't meet all my expectations which is reflected in the huge untouched ironing pile!"
"I acknowledge that you too cannot meet all my expectations all the time and so there are areas of your life that will be slightly chaotic or messy. "It's okay not to be perfect!"
D. Discuss the difference between your love for them and their behaviour: That they are two are very separate entities, i.e. you love them unconditionally and that your love will never be removed because of who they are or what they do. Then make it clear that you are allowed to react to their behaviour with upset or anger, without removing your love.
E. Discuss how you're prepared to 'relax' the reigns and house rules so that they feel less restricted, BUT that you cannot accept certain behaviour in your home. Clarify what your boundaries are and place them into two categories 1. ABSOLUTE NOs and 2. EXPECTATIONS. I.e. an absolute no might be 'no smoking', whereas an expectation could be to 'make their bed each day'. By doing this, we are making it clear which boundaries we are more lenient on and therefore when 'rebellion' occurs which of our rules we hope they'll break!
F. Allow them an opportunity to speak. Clarify what you've heard by repeating it back to them, so they feel understood and re-empowered. Ask them which 'house rules' could become more relaxed in their opinion, bearing in mind you could not accept vaping in your home. This again empowers them because you are giving them a voice in what goes on at home, in turn opening the door to ownership.
G. Finally there is always a root cause for the need for perfection. It's often related to our own insecurity as parents or our feeling out of control. This needs to be addressed. In the same way, we would hope our teens can GROW, and we should also allow ourselves an equal opportunity. Taking responsibility for the feelings we have as parents and seeking help to resolve inner conflict (patterns often established in early childhood for survival)shows maturity.
To accept we are not perfect as parents offers us the opportunity to apologise to our teens whilst also teaching forgiveness. In return, our teens are learning corrective behaviour, and we're empowering them to take responsibility for their actions by showing them that we do the same.