How to Change a Teenager's Behavior
How to read my Emotions on my Face
Things Every Parent Should Have
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I can't Move to Florida
I was having a BBQ with one of my friends and he said, “My kids are driving me nuts. I don't know what to do about it.”
I told him that he should wait until they leave for school in the morning and then pack up all his stuff and move before they come home. Leave them a note that says, “I love you but I can no longer live with you, so I have moved to Florida. There is cheese and bread in the refrigerator, make yourself a cheese sandwich. I will send more cheese and bread before you run out. I chose cheese and bread because that is the only thing I have ever seen you make for yourself, as a matter of fact, its the only thing I have ever seen you eat. I will come back when you have a job and an apartment. I love you. Don't try to find me.”
Well that garnered the correct response as we both got a good laugh. I always like to start a discussion of this type with a little humor. Then I pointed out that whatever unhappiness he was feeling, it was sure to be reflected in his kids. If you really want some change to occur you have to make sure it is not a one way street. Families are complicated and individuals do not exist in isolation in the family. Anyway my friend Bill decided that there were a bunch of reasons he can't move to Florida, and he sure didn't want his kids to be unhappy, and he wanted to be happier, and his wife was wondering if she would ever be able to stop being a referee.
I liked those ideas and suggested that he make them into goals.
Goal number one: Wife stops being a referee. Since Bill could see the instant benefits to making this come true, he was all about changing things around so that his wife got some relief. Oh, yes!
“What was it that she was refereeing?” I asked. Well as it turns out, there had been some things that the kids were doing or not doing that made Bill mad. And he wasn't handling it very well. For example, the dishes at the end of dinner. The kids were supposed to wash the dishes and trade off the job. It was a simple task because they have a dishwasher and his wife cleaned up after herself when she was cooking. Bill found himself getting angry during dinner because he knew what he faced at the end of the meal. He would remind one of them that it was time to do the dishes. He got nothing but arguments: “It's not my turn, I did them last night.” “I will do them later, I need to do my homework now.” “You always take his side.” “Mom, dad is yelling at me for no reason.” This would infuriate Bill and he would start yelling and then just leave the kitchen frustrated and feeling like his kids were the worst thing in the world. His wife would have to fix the situation and coax the kids into doing their job. Then he would feel like a POC. (psychological term meaning 'piece of crap').
I told him, “Don't be so hard on yourself, there are plenty of people in the world just waiting to judge you, you don't have to make it worse by joining forces with them.” “What I know about you is that you are a wonderful person, or else I would find a new friend. I enjoy being with you because you are funny and caring and adventurous and our friendship makes my life better.” “It's high time you let your kids discover this person, too.” I asked him to try to think of ways to avoid the nightly confrontation that would allow his wife to have another role.
He surprisingly said, “I guess I have to change how I am handling the situation. I need to think of another approach besides getting angry.” I told him that I really loved the idea. That it might be hard to accomplish though. He assured me, “I can control my anger.”
I wondered out loud, “If you can control your anger, then what is the purpose of the anger? What happens just before you get angry?”
He said, “They just make me so mad.” Then he laughed. He already realized what he said. There is no 'they' that can do that. It is completely situational. You don't just sit around getting angry on purpose or because someone else wants you to, so you must be getting angry in certain situations. Then he said, “Well, I guess I get angry when I am frustrated, disappointed, or disrespected.”
I asked him, “Bill, do you think that your kids might have some of the same feelings some of the time?” He felt certain that they did. I said, “That sucks.” (psychological term meaning not good)
He then said, “Maybe I should talk with the kids and tell them how I feel. And then ask them if they would help me make the changes that I want.”
I told him, “Now I know why I love having you as my friend. You laugh at my jokes, you have a tender heart, and most of all you find solutions to problems without whining about it. I am so lucky to have a friend that I can reason with, because you know how I am when I run out of reason, I start punching.”
We both laughed.
A couple of weeks later, I asked how it was going. And he said his wife is happier than in a long time. And that he is proud of his kids. He had told them how he was feeling. And they agreed that something needed to be done. They came up with a little weekly calendar that each of them signed off each day to keep track of who does dishes on what night. And ever since they agreed, they even have helped each other when it wasn't their night. And Bill has been so delighted that he even helps clear the dishes and has instituted a clean joke policy. Make me laugh with a clean joke, and I will help with the dishes. So far he hasn't cracked a smile but there sure have been a lot of good laughs when the kids steal their jokes from laffy taffy. Some real groaners there. Oh, and by the way, so many other little problems have gotten better with less effort than ever thought possible.
If you think that your child is experiencing psychological or emotional problems, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Your community mental health agency can help you assess the situation.
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