First a few things that don’t work:
- Trying to change others. This doesn’t work because our focus is on trying to change “them”, rather than working on ourselves first.
- New counseling techniques. This doesn’t work because the problem isn’t the technique, but rather the fallacy of thinking we can change someone who is unmotivated to change.
- Borrowing from my strengths. I’m bigger, stronger, smarter, louder. In other words, as the adult, when I’m not getting my way, I go to my “strengths” as an adult. But winning the argument like this will weaken the relationship. How do I know? Because I’ve made this mistake too many times.
Here are 10 suggestions that will work over time if you are consistent and persistent:
1. Learn to demonstrate the correctness of your ideas with indirect methods
- This saves face, no one is offended, and your point is proven.
- Story – “The King and his servant.” The servant was loyal and faithful. His loyalty made him enemies from the others around the king who sought to destroy the loyal servant. Day after day they worked on the King and finally convinced the King that the servant was a phony. The King ordered him to be put to death. The wise servant, rather than trying to defend himself directly to the King, asked for ten days to get his house in order. He knew that people sentenced to death were thrown into a cage with the Kings fierce hunting dogs that would tear the victims to pieces. He proceeded to bribe the Kings’ Huntsman in charge of the dogs and asked if he could watch the dogs for ten days. The Huntsman agreed. During that time he groomed, fed and loved on the dogs. On the eleventh day when he was thrown into the cage with the dogs, they came running to him wagging their tails and began to play with him. This amazed the King who asked how this could be? The servant answered, “I have looked after these dogs for the past ten days and you have seen the result for yourself. I have looked after you for thirty years and what is the result? You condemn me to death.” The King was ashamed. He saw his error and set the servant free.
2. Win by actions, not argument
- Instead of arguing it’s better to work to change their perspective without criticizing their misconception. The art of persuasion is being able to think through your moves by their long-term effects. It does us little good if we win the argument but lose our position of influence.
3. Teens respond not primarily to what you do but to how you do it.
- It’s not that our discipline is too hard or soft – it’s the way we are being when we give the discipline that matters to our children to get them to change behavior. Hard messages can be given and cause them to do better when delivered in a softer way.
- We get angry for our children being like we are being – the problem is our behavior towards their behavior.
- Measurement Question: Are our children more or less motivated to do the right things after we deal with them?
4. Don’t lecture your child about what they already know.
Lecturing is for people:
- Who want to listen to you.
- Who are forced to listen to you. (School – College/Court)
Most Teens do not respond well to lectures of:
- I told you so
- How could you
- When I was your age
Remember: Our goal is to change their behavior – They already know it is wrong.
5. Show Empathy – Remembering our mistakes and our mentality we had at their age:
- Teens usually open up to and listen to parents who demonstrate understanding.
- Respect for teens period of growth and discovery is demonstrated by tolerance.
- Empathy says the process of changed behavior requires patience.
- Demonstrating our understanding, tolerance and patience does not mean we agree. They know we don’t agree—but they also want to know we understand.
6. Practice the Art of Listening
“If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relationships, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood…Spend time with your children now, one on one. Listen to them. Look at your home, school, life and challenges and the problems they are facing from their eyes.” – Stephen R. Covey
- The art of reasoning is based in understanding other perspectives.
- When youth feel understood they are open to higher points of view.
- When we have a genuine understanding of other perspectives, we will not belittle them.
- Be slow to anger but quick to listen.
7. Apply reasonable consequences
- Reasonable consequences do not last for months or a year.
- Unreasonable consequences are usually given out of anger.
- Unreasonable consequences are meant to punish and not discipline.
- Discipline seeks to teach. Punishment seeks revenge.
- Unreasonable consequences set our children up for failure.
8. Put on their perspective prescription
- Understanding other perspectives is knowing why they see things the way they do.
9. Don’t die on the wrong Battlefield
- Decide what is important and what is trivial or petty and then make sure you are not focused on petty issues. Why “die” on the trivial issues?
- Too many rules to enforce means too much energy spent on the little things.
- A short-term petty battle won – does not guarantee a change of character.
10. Model the right behavior
- When our children do the wrong thing we must do the right thing. A fire needs water, not gasoline.
- Keep our focus on self first to accurately diagnose before we prescribe.
- Remember in their heart of hearts – your child wants to do the right thing.
- Contrary to popular belief – youth want to be corrected for wrong behavior.
- Disobedient children carry a guilty conscience yearning for resolution. We must initiate reconciliation.
- When all else fails: make them choose their consequences. Tough love does not throw youth out, but makes them decide to leave or stay.