August 27, 2014 at 12:00 AM
“Of course my mother pushes my buttons… she installed them!” This is quoted from one of my coach training weekends. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? (Moms, please don’t take offense. Feel free to insert “my father” if that is more accurate!)
When you read it, do you hear your child talking about you, or you talking about your own parents? Either way, we all have hot buttons that influence how we interpret what we hear and how we react. (By the way, sometimes what you heard isn’t exactly what the other person meant, but that’s an article for another day.)
As a parent, you have spent many years nurturing and protecting your child. Now this child is a teenager and thinks s/he is an adult…and doesn’t hesitate to tell you so (hot button)! You may find yourself trying to impose your own logic and life experience (hot button). You may feel the need to ‘fix it’ for them. After all, you’ve been there, done that, right? (hot button) This approach often leaves both you and your child frustrated.
When my children, now in their mid-20s, ask me when I will stop worrying about them, I tell them it won’t happen until I stop breathing. I’ll always worry about them. It’s what parents do. But there is a difference between thoughts and feelings, and actions and reactions. This is where you become aware of your button and don’t act on it.
Too often parents feel that they must respond immediately – with advice, a yes or no to a request, or consequences. A button has been pushed and your gut tells you to take action. Instead, take a moment to reflect. How would it feel to say, “I’ll get back to you on that,” or “I have some strong feelings about that. I need to think about what you’ve just told me.” When you respond this way, you’re telling your child that you really listened. You’re breaking down defensive walls and opening up to meaningful communication.
Reacting and responding in a more thoughtful, less emotional way is critical to a healthy relationship between you and your teen. To improve these skills, consider “How to Talk So Teens Will Listen” by Faber & Mazlish. It’s an older book, but the content is just as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. I am also available to you as a parent coach to help navigate the waters of parent-teen communication.
There is no EASY button in parenting; however, you can cool down your hot buttons and draw your child closer to you. And, as always, it is never too late to start.
Questions for reflection:
1. What are ‘hot button’ issues between me and my child?
2. What feelings come up for me when those buttons are pushed?
3. Speaking from the heart, what do I really want my child to know?
4. How can I have this conversation, and how will I feel when it’s done?
Fern Weis is a parent coach and former middle school teacher. Since 2008, she has been coaching and educating parents of teens and tweens, beginning by taking parents back to basics: breaking through the fears they have for their children, so they can confidently do whatever it takes (including what feels tough) to raise confident, self-sufficient, resilient kids who are successful in high school, college and beyond.
In her work with parents, Fern shares from her personal experience as the mother of an out-of-control teen. She learned that love and good intentions were not enough… in fact, they were part of the problem. Nothing was going to change until she did. So she did, and doing that work changed everything.
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