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3 paradoxical parenting skills to manage challenging teens

A Guest Post from Dan Jones - Solution focused hypnotherapist

Many parents of challenging teens who have come through my doors develop three particular skills that really help them to help their teens change their behaviour. These three skills often appear paradoxical, and can sometimes seem, and feel, counter-intuitive. They are so powerful because they:

  • move the focus (and measure of success) away from the parents to the teen, and their emotional needs.
  • help the teen to feel understood and emotionally connected.
  • give the teen a real sense of control and independence.

These paradoxical skills also worked well within residential children's homes.

1) Walking away

Although initially seen as failure by many parents, walking away has many advantages when managing challenging teens. Many parents often say that walking away means their teen has 'won', or they say that they only walk away when they can't think of anything else to do, and so they are doing it because they have failed.

When I ask these parents "What happens after you walk away?" they often report that after a short period of time their son or daughter calms down and behaves.

When I then ask them what they ultimately want to achieve, they normally say they want less arguing, less violence or aggression, less conflict, and they want their teen to learn how to calm themselves down.

When I ask what the outcome of 'walking away' is, they often report all of these things happening.

Walking away can be difficult because it feels easier, and even more appropriate, to retaliate or respond. Every parent I work with has their own unique strategy. Some plug in headphones and get on with housework, others go and sit in their car for twenty minutes, or they go out for a walk.

Once they realise that by choosing to walk away they are in control of what they are doing, and that outcomes are actually more positive (with less conflict, less aggression, less arguing and the teen calming down quicker), they also discover that their relationship with their teen often improves as well.

Mark's comment - remember it can take up to 30 minutes to be calm enough to continue the conversation.

Here's what happens: Two people are having a heated argument. One person goes into another room to 'cool off'. After ten minutes, they feel calmer. So they go back into the same space as the person they'd been arguing with - but what happens? Even though both parties felt calmer, suddenly they are back fighting again.

Feeling calmer and being calmer can be two different things. It takes 30 minutes or so to calm down physiologically after a row - so give it more time. And during the cool-off time, refrain from rehearsing in your head all the things you want to say to 'set them straight'. Instead, think cooling thoughts and remember times when you were getting along better with this person.

2) Accepting the teen's perspective

With all my training in hypnosis, I am aware that trance is everywhere. I also see that in different 'trance states' people hold different beliefs, and, moreover, they believe the realities that they are creating without realising that they themselves are the creators of the 'reality' they are experiencing.

For example, someone in a 'depression trance' is likely to view the world in a very specific way. They may well believe 'everything' is 'always' bad, and anything good that happens is just 'one off' incidents.

Because people view the world from their own unique perspective, and this view is ever changing, it makes sense to accept that what someone believes in that moment is real to them in that moment.

Many arguments happen because people disagree, rather than accepting that what the other person believes is real to them in that moment. Many of us have said "I hate you!" to a loved one, only to regret it later, and say we didn't mean it.

The truth is that, in the heat of the moment, we did mean it.

Many parents I worked with have heard one of their children saying "You love my brother more than you love me!" The parent normally responds with what they think is the 'right' answer by saying "No I don't! I love you both equally!" Unfortunately, this often opens up an argument because there are now two sides.

Whereas, once parents begin to accept that what a teen says is true for them in that moment, they can remain supportive. Using the example above, they may respond with "What would I be doing that would show you I love you both equally?" (A question that seeks more information.)

So instead of responding negatively and opposing the teen, the response is supportive of the teen's view and looking at what needs to be different.

The same can apply when a teen says "You never listen!" The parent can reply "What do I have to do so that you know I am listening?"

Or "It's unfair, I should be allowed out all night!" The parent can reply "You feel it is unfair and feel you should be allowed out all night?"

This isn't about 'giving in'; it is about respecting their perspective and not adding fuel to the fire.

In the last example, the parent is unlikely to offer a useful question to find out more information, because the parent will be sticking to the boundary they have already set, and will have made the consequences clear, so once they have done this they will want to empathise with the teen to show they respect the teen's perspective.

3) Giving the teen control

Many parents I work with want their teens to 'do as they are told'; they want to be clear with boundaries and consequences. When I suggest they give opportunities for their teen to have some control, they think I have gone mad. But one of our innate needs is to have a sense of control over our lives, and this doesn't just go for adults, it also applies to teens.

There are many creative ways of giving teens a sense of control.

You can offer a selection of choices where you don't really mind which one they choose.

You can ask for slightly more than the teen is likely to give you. For example, I know a secondary school teacher who will ask the pupils to do their ties and top buttons up properly. The pupils often just do their ties up properly, and then believe they have 'got one over' on the teacher because they didn't do their top button up. The teacher knows this perfectly well, but also knows that now they look presentable.

When putting boundaries in place and discussing consequences, it is useful for the teen to be aware that they are in control of their own choices. Many parents end up arguing with their teens about consequences, rather than just sticking to explaining the outcomes of their actions, and then letting the teen make their choice. The choice isn't always the one the parent wants the teen to make.

Parents often overlook the key implication of the 'consequences' deal. When a teen or child is told "Do this, or else...", and they don't do it, and the consequences are then activated, it doesn't follow that the teen now has to do the "Do this" part. They don't.

Many parents tell me "I have tried grounding (or whatever the consequence), and he (she) still doesn't do what I want."

If a teen is told "If you don't go to college today, you aren't getting today's pocket money", the teen is in a 'cost-benefit' situation. They may decide they are willing to forgo today's pocket money and not go to college. They may even be willing to do the same tomorrow, and the next day. But if the parent is constantly drawing attention to things their teen would like to buy but they don't have the money, they are more likely to eventually go to college to get their pocket money.

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Look out for more guest posts from Dan Jones, who is a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist from Bognor Regis, West Sussex, UK. Dan has supported over 500 parents of teenagers who were engaging in anti-social behaviour and were at risk of becoming a young offender, or were already in the criminal justice system.

You can learn How to Stop Anyone Smoking with Mark Tyrrell on our Smoking Cessation Training Course (online).

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