New Parenting Skills
By Kirk Kline
Most people with children want to be good parents. The majority of parents want the best for their kids, but at what cost to the kids? If what we are doing as parents is working, then why is the juvenile crime rate so high and gang membership so attractive? Drug and alcohol abuse is wide spread, and AIDS among our youth has become an increasing problem. If you asked teenagers, most would say they don’t feel they are listened to, or honored as the individuals that they are.
Joe’s mother’s and stepfather’s intentions for him were pretty much the same as most parents. They wanted him to get good grades, go to college, and be happy. Their parenting skills differed though. His mother listened to him; she was empathetic and non judgmental. She allowed him to be his own person, make his mistakes and learn from them. His step father, Chuck, on the other hand was the authoritarian, and wasn’t able to hear what Joe wanted or needed. Screaming and yelling was the favored form of communication, and as a result the two are estranged. They have not spoken in over four years.
Children don’t come with manuals, so as parents we more or less do it the way we learned from our parents, as they learned from their parents, and so on. One definition of insanity is doing things the same way expecting different results. Kids are very observant; they pick up on what we say we believe and how we live by that. When our actions are in alignment with our values, kids will see it and have better role models. So in essence, who really needs to change, the parents or the children?
These are a few strategies to help parents begin having a stronger, more loving and open relationship with their kids.
1. Know thyself.
The first step is to know what your motives, desires, values and intentions are. Some question you may ask yourself to get started: What were the true reasons for having children? What do you really want for your child and why? Are they your dreams, goals and desires or are they theirs? When you discipline her, what is the real purpose? Is it being done from anger and frustration or love and compassion? Years later Chuck realized that his anger and loss of control was out of frustration at not being able to control his stepson. The feelings of loss of control were about his own life and frustrations, not Joes’s.
Knowing one’s inner most self can be take time, but with patience and practice, and an honest desire, it will pay off. You will see results not only in the relationship with your child, but in other aspects of your life also.
2. Develop better listening skills
Do you remember a time when someone listened to everything you were saying, hung on to every word with interest? You probably felt validated, safe and understood as a person and with it came trust. Now imagine how your teenager feels when you take time to really listen to him.
We all have listening skills to some degree. True listening is an art form that is rarely used. Usually we only hear the words that are being spoken but little else. Listening is like a muscle in the body; the more it is used and developed, the stronger it becomes. To start “hearing” your child, you must first be open to listening in a new way. Listen at a deeper level, not only to the words that are being spoken, but also to the “space” between the words. Listen to what is behind the words; observe her body language and the tone of her voice. Don’t assume that what you thought you heard is actually what she said. There are several ways of finding out. One is to mirror back what she said and second is be curious! Start asking open ended questions. Open ended questions are ones that are used to further qualify what was said or to find out what was buried a little deeper behind the words. “What happens next?” “Where do you go from here?” “What options can you create?” “How do you explain this to yourself?” These are just a few examples of questions you can use with your teenager. Never start a question with “why”. Using it implies a judgment that the decision your teen made was wrong. It’s an accusatory question and should be avoided.
3. Avoid “fixing a problem”
One of the most common traps parents fall into (especially men) is trying to fix a problem. Somehow we feel that our kids aren’t smart enough or creative enough to solve their problems. As human beings we are all naturally resourceful, creative and whole, and that includes our children! Trying to “fix” our kids problems only leads to anger and resentment on their part; it takes away their freedom of choice and their decision making abilities. For parents it can also lead to anger and frustration. How many times have we tried to solve his problems except he doesn’t take our advice? What happens? We get angry and think he doesn’t listen, he’s rebellious or he’s bad. Allowing him to make his own mistakes and learn from them is how he learns, they are opportunities for growth.
Part of the same trap that we fall into is our belief that our experiences and decisions we have made in a similar situation will somehow benefit him. Our experiences, thoughts, feelings and decisions were our own, something we had to learn. His thoughts, feelings, ideas and outlooks are his and his alone, not ours. If he asks specifically for your experiences, then feel free to relate it, but let him know it is his decision in the end to make.
4. Respect your children
How did you feel the last time someone told you they respected you? If you’re like most people you probably felt good about yourself. Respect is something we all need and want as people, to know that we are appreciated just for being alive. Teenagers are the same way. Notice how you treat your own teenager or teenagers in general. Respect can be shown in many ways from the words we use, our tone of voice, body language and how attentive we are when they talk. By just listening without judgment, condemnation or problem solving, we show respect.
The first thing to do is notice the qualities of your son or daughter and write them down. What about their friends or other teenagers you know? What qualities have you noticed in them? This doesn’t mean what they have or have not accomplished, i.e., good grades, coming home on time, doing well in sports, or staying away from drugs or alcohol. Notice what values were behind the decisions. Did she exhibit courage to stand up to friends who offered her drugs? Did he honor his values by coming home when he said he would?
David’s relationship with his 15-year old son Zack was not going well. They didn’t have the same type of close relationship David once enjoyed, and he missed the talks they used to have. Zack on the other hand complained that his Dad didn’t listen to or respect him or his ideas and opinions. David learned through coaching to start listening at a deeper level and find the qualities Zack exhibited. “When I started listening to my son without judgment I realized just how passionate he was about music,” he said. “I told him one day that I respected his dedication and passion for music and for the goals he had made for himself concerning a music career. When I mentioned I felt honored to have him has my son for who he was, his eyes lit up. I believe now we have a chance to reestablish the relationship we both want.” David’s decision to find his son’s qualities without judging him brought new hope to their relationship.
Second, start telling her every day that you respect her. Practice it in front of a mirror each morning until you get used to saying it. You will be surprised how much she will eat it up and in return she will start respecting you. She may look at you funny to begin with and it may be uncomfortable, but don’t give up. Your teen is worth it.
Kirk Kline is a trained life coach who works with teenagers on self esteem, goal setting skills and how to make positive choices in their lives. He also coaches parents on how to have the type of relationship they want with their kids, as well as how to coach them. Kirk lives and works in Orlando, Florida and will be relocating to the Atlanta area in July. For more information, or to find out how he can help, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 407-294-3800.