I have been having very interesting conversations with my 14-year-old recently.
Last night, she was commenting about myopia. You see, she has been saying she needs glasses for a while and recently she went to the optometrist.
C: You know mom, I can’t imagine how people who need glasses function without glasses. My prescription is only 75 and 100 degrees. Yet I have so much difficulty seeing the bus numbers without glasses. I can’t imagine how it is like for someone who has a prescription of more than 400 degrees and does not have glasses.
Me: Well, I have a prescription of more than 400 degrees and I can’t function without my glasses. I thought you knew that. That’s why I always say I need my glasses to find my glasses. I can’t see without my glasses.
C: I knew you need glasses and without them you can’t see. But I never thought about how that felt, or how blurry things would be for you without your glasses. When the optometrist put the glasses on for me and I went out of the shop to look around, suddenly everything looked clear. And when I removed them, I realised how blur things have been. If it has been so blur for me, I can’t imagine how it is for you or anyone who has worse eyesight than me. I didn’t understand how it was like to NOT be able to see. But now, I have a better idea of how it is like for you.
With that comment of hers, a light bulb came on for me.
Lesson for Me
My dear C, you have no idea how important a lesson you have taught me, AGAIN.
How often have I known, yet NOT KNOWN, how difficult things are for my children?
When they struggle to stay focused, I know it is because their more mature nucleus accumbens (the pleasure-seeking centre of their brain) is driving their thoughts and actions and that their pre-frontal cortex (the logical decision making centre of their brain) is not quite mature yet to hold their goal in view.
But I don’t REALLY know how hard it is for them to focus because I still get impatient and judgmental when they are distracted.
Likewise, when they lose their temper, I know that, for my teens, it is because of the fluctuations of hormones in their bodies making control difficult, or, for my little one, that it is because she is really tired/hungry etc.
But I don’t REALLY know how hard it is for them to control their temper because sometimes I still get triggered when they “lose” it.
And there are parents whose children are hyperactive, or depressed, or perfectionists, or have sensory sensitivities, or a zillion other challenges. How WELL do most parents REALLY know the struggles their children go through?
Most times, we may feel “if only the kids would try harder…”, or worse, “they are leading us by our noses, manipulating us,” etc. I know I have been guilty of that.
If we really KNOW how our children feel and how they struggle, we will not have those thoughts at all.
The truth is we don’t REALLY know how hard it is for them to function “normally” unless we have the same condition as they do. That is why we tend to be more critical and impatient, less sympathetic and loving.
Unfortunately, that does not help our children. Our lack of empathy and lacklustre support makes it even harder for them to function normally.
So while I may “know” my children are having a tough time, and that they are doing their best, I still need to do the following:
remember I don’t REALLY KNOW how awful they feel or how hard they are struggling,
remind myself to take my 2 deep breaths,
strike down my fear that I have lost control over them,
tap into my unconditional love for them, and
support them when they falter.
Once again, I am grateful to C for the insight she has given me. May her insight help you decode your children so you can help them overcome whatever challenges they have as well.
In Part 3, we will look at the “HOW”. How do we control and deal with our anger?
What We Can Do
1) Identify the Fear
In Part 2 of Dealing with Anger, I mentioned that ANGER is the mask for FEAR.
Whenever we get angry, it’s because a fear is triggered. And instead of feeling paralysed by the fear, we put on our ANGRY mask so we can “fight” the threat. In other words, instead of dealing with the fear, we attack whatever it is that exposes that fear.
What we see on the surface is ANGER (shouting, hitting etc). But beneath that surface is a whole range of other emotions that is almost always backed by fear.
For example, most of us instinctively get angry when someone points out our mistakes. But what do we actually feel? Most probably it was embarrassment. However, the underlying emotion is actually our fear of “losing face”.
Or if someone cuts us off in traffic, we feel indignant that the other driver is being rude and we honk angrily at him. But our underlying emotion could be our fear of being late. It could even be due to our kiasuism (fear of losing) to other driver.
Or if, instead of us, a colleague gets promoted. Some of us may feel jealous. We may complain about unfairness or even resign in anger. But actually what is triggered is our subconscious fear that our contribution is not being recognised by our bosses.
Of if our child throws a tantrum. Out of frustration, we yell, shout or hit the child. But if we analyse it further, it could be our fear of not knowing how to help our child. I know some parents fear becoming the parent they vowed never to be. I was one of them. It took me a long time to overcome that fear. I’ll share how I overcome that in a moment.
The point is whenever we get angry, there actually lies a host of emotions (frustration, jealousy, embarrassment etc) beneath that ANGER. And if we dig further, those emotions always stem from fear.
How does knowing that help us?
Every time we feel angry, even if we have already exploded, we need to take the time to reflect and identify the emotion that triggered that anger. More importantly, we must identify the fear that is triggered. After a while, we will discover certain fears keep surfacing.
2) Identify the Fear Pattern
What are the fears that keep surfacing? Is it the fear of “losing face”? Why are we afraid of losing face? Is it because we are worried people will think/know we have FAILED to do it right?
Or is it kiasuism, our fear of losing? Why are we afraid to lose? Is it because we don’t want to appear lousier than others? Because that would mean we have FAILED to win?
Or is it the fear of becoming someone whom we have vowed never to become? Why is it fearful to become that person? Is it because we know that person is flawed and if we are becoming like them, it means we too are flawed, that we have FAILED at being better?
Or is it fear of the unknown, fear of change? Why is change or the unknown so fearful? Is it because we don’t know how to respond or deal with it, that we will FAIL to adapt?
We need to keep asking questions and drill as deeply as possible to uncover our hidden fears.
Most of the time, we will realise our root fear is the fear of failure. And that comes from our fear of being NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
3) Question the Validity of the Fear
The fear of failure is deeply entrenched in our psyche, especially in our culture. We were brought up in a society where failure, or making mistakes, is frowned upon and not seen as an essential step towards learning. Some of us were brought up where we were not given second chances, or were very harshly punished for our mistakes.
I used to beat myself up badly every time I messed up. I would feel guilty, and with each loss in my temper, I would feel more inadequate then ever. Not only did I feel I wasn’t GOOD ENOUGH, I actually felt I was worse than the parent I did not want to become. Why? Because, compared to my parent, I had done so much reading and studying about becoming a good parent. Yet I had failed to do what I wanted to do. I was convinced I was a lousy, terrible, unworthy parent to my children.
Until one day, I had an epiphany.
I used to have a parent who would punish me when I messed up. Not only did I get a tongue lashing, I would get a physical lashing as well. Even if I had scored 97 marks in my Math test, I would receive 3 lashings for not scoring 100. And if I scored 99, then it would be 1 very hard lashing, because I was SO CLOSE yet not achieve 100. I remember scoring 77 marks once. Those were dark days… I was brought up to fear failure, to fear mistakes.
What led to my epiphany was I realised I hadn’t been scolded nor received lashings for more than 30 years. Yet that blueprint of being whipped and lashed had been so ingrained in me that I had became my greatest punisher. I realised I was the one who had made my life extremely difficult especially when my journey was rough. I had become my harshest critic to prevent failing or making mistakes. But my harshness sunk me to greater depths of despair whenever I failed and each “sinking” was harder to climb out of. How could I ever be the parent I want to be if I were so lousy?
So I went on a quest to learn how to overcome the conditioning that failure needs to be “beaten” out of me, that I am never good enough, even if I am at 99%.
And this is what I learned on my quest.
We need to really question the validity of our fear of failure. Past failures do not mean future failures, otherwise none of us would have ever learned to walk, ride a bike, swim, or do almost anything. How many of us learned to do anything the very first time we did them? Most of us had failed repeatedly before we succeeded in doing anything well. Yet, because we had persevered, each failure helped us learn where we went wrong and we became better.
So instead of saying we are not good enough, or that failure is bad, a strong mantra or affirmation we can use is this:
“I am doing the best I can given the circumstances I am in with the knowledge and skills I have.”
“Failure and learning from past mistakes are necessary for growth and success.”
That way, we don’t beat ourselves up when we have yet to reach success. We will have the strength to pick ourselves up, learn, and have another go until we get it right.
These mantras have helped me so much in managing my “failures”, in helping me pick myself up and learn to be better. They have empowered me to feel I CAN be better and they did not sink me into the depths of despair.
It sounds simple, but actually takes a lot of courage and resilience to press on and not get buried by mistakes. When the going got tough, and it frequently did and still does, I just thought about Thomas Edison. When asked how he felt failing 10,000 times before he invented the lightbulb, he replied, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
The key here is to know we can do it and keep working on finding a solution without beating ourselves up.
BUT some parents tell me, “I can’t control my explosions! Even before I can analyse my fear, my anger has already gripped me and I have exploded. So how?”
When we feel that familiar gush of anger flooding into our system, the very first step is to take a deep breath. It takes conscious effort and determination to not let the anger control us. The wonder of taking that ONE deep breath is that most people will find their brains less foggy and they can think better after that one deep breath . It is through this first step that anger can be controlled.
Unfortunately, that is one of the hardest thing to do. I have encountered so many parents who say that once they are gripped by anger, they would lash out instinctively. They only remember they need to take a deep breath after their anger is spent. Why?
Usually when an EVENT happens, we have a THOUGHT or interpretation about it. That THOUGHT triggers us feel a particular EMOTION which leads to a certain BEHAVIOUR. For example, the child hits his sibling. Automatically, our brain interprets that event with the thought that the child is being naughty which makes our blood boil (anger) and we yell at or hit the child
The thing is, whenever we allow a thought to be triggered by a particular set of events and we respond with a particular emotion which leads to certain behaviour, our brain triggers a connection from the event to the interpretation (thought) to the corresponding emotion and finally to the behaviour. The more we react to the same event by pulling up the same thought followed by the same emotion and reinforcing it with the same behaviour, the thicker and stronger the synapse (or pathway) from the event to the final behaviour becomes.
It gets to the extent that the pathway becomes “instinctive”. In other words, the final behaviour becomes instinctive whenever the interpretation or thought appears as a result of certain events. The link (arrow) from EVENT to BEHAVIOUR as well as from THOUGHT to BEHAVIOUR is now very strong and thick.
That is why some parents cannot even stop to breathe once the trigger is activated. That is why for many parents who have “anger management” issues, they cannot even remember to breathe once they feel angry.
Does that mean there is no cure once we have anger management issues? Thank goodness that is not the case. There is a cure. Otherwise I would still be having anger management issues.
I used to be an explosive mom. Despite knowing and doing my best to practice loving guidance, I had on many occasions yelled at my two older children when they were young. And even though it was rare, I have also been guilty of spanking them.
That was years ago before I learned about anger and why I exploded. With that knowledge and a lot of hard work (and mistakes), I overcame that “instinct” to yell at them and was also able to stop myself from raising my hands to their bottoms.
I have 3 children. My older two are 10 and 8 years older than my youngest child. They have often commented that their youngest sibling has a very different mom. Even though they have not been yelled at or hit for years, the trauma of how I had “disciplined” them with violence still remained.
That is why I strongly advocate for peaceful, loving discipline. Our children remember how we treat them, even if they may have forgiven us.
Visualise It Now
So how did I overcome my anger? It was through visualising what I would do when the “event” occurs.
Let us do a few simple exercises now.
Take two deep breaths slowly (BEHAVIOUR 1). Now visualise yourself calming down and creating the THOUGHT that your child needs your help. Then bring up the feeling of compassion and imagine yourself talking gently and lovingly with your child. You can even think of the “script” you would say to the child when you are calm (BEHAVIOUR 2).
Keep replaying that visualisation over and over again.
Why would that help? It helps because our brain cannot differentiate between what is real and what is imaginary. It will still form synapses. Hence, when we visualise or imagine something, our brains will still trigger the connections. In other words, we can actually “rewire” our brains just by thinking!
The more we visualise ourselves doing this, the stronger the pathway (arrow).
If you can, keep repeating this visualisation several times a day. However, I shall be brutally honest here. After doing the exercise now (assuming that you have done it), most parents will most likely repeat this visualisation only when they explode the next time and feel guilty. They will remember they WERE SUPPOSED to take 2 deep breaths.
Instead of feeling guilty that you did not take 2 deep breaths but had exploded, just do your visualisation. Imagine yourself taking 2 deep breaths, creating the thought that your child needs help and you feeling compassion for him.
Then go through the script where you will speak gently and lovingly to him. Keep doing this EVERY TIME you explode. Do not give in to the guilt and replay how you have exploded. Otherwise you are reinforcing the synapse of you responding to events or behaviour of your child with anger. Stop the video of your mistake. Create a new video of you taking 2 deep breaths, calming down etc. Trust me, it works. It takes time and effort because we are rewiring our brain, but it works.
How do you know you have mastered “Taking 2 Breaths”?
When you feel irritated or frustrated, but not angry yet, you will find yourself taking the 2 deep breaths, feeling calmer and being better able to speak gently and lovingly.
You may also notice your explosions getting fewer in frequency and lesser in intensity. Your synapse below is ready.
When that happens, you are ready for Step 2.
What is Step 2?
Step 2 requires you to rewire events that make you feel your child is being naughty or intentionally making you upset.
Think about something your child does that typically causes you to explode. Imagine that she has done that. Now visualise yourself taking two deep breaths and calming down.
Keep doing this visualisation while practicing you taking 2 deep breaths, thinking and believing that your child needs help and you speaking gently and lovingly to her. Keep doing this until it becomes your default behaviour.
Once you can get from whatever triggers you (big or small) to taking your 2 deep breaths, the rest of loving guidance will follow.
What? There is still Step 3?
Well, I never said changing our habitual instinctive behaviour is easy, did I? It takes effort and we need to cover different scenarios because right now the more easily triggered we are by anger, the more “roads” we have in our brains that lead to “Rome”. So we need to “destroy” those traditional paths and recreate new roads that lead to paradise.
So what is Step 3?
It is catching ourselves having the thought that our children are naughty. Whenever we have that thought, catch it and visualise ourselves taking 2 deep breaths. We want to create a strong pathway for this negative thought and link it to us taking 2 deep breaths.
When we find ourselves successfully catching ourselves referring to or thinking that our children are naughty and following that thought with 2 deep breaths, we would have succeeded in creating and strengthening these new pathways in our brain and weakening our old paths.
I have a few parents who confessed they would still scold and spank after they take their 2 deep breaths. The reason that happens is because their visualisation practice laid out in first part of the exercise (visualising taking deep breaths followed by the thought that their child needs help, followed by the feeling of compassion which leads them to be able to speak gently and lovingly) was not strong enough.
This manner of rewiring our brain applies not only to anger management. It applies to all aspects, including getting rid of procrastination, overcoming fear, etc. The more vivid we can visualise what we would like happen, the faster and thicker the connection will grow and the sooner we will be able to exhibit the desired behaviour.
That is why our thoughts have power. When we keep replying old “videos” in our heads, feeling the same shame and guilt for our angry explosions, we are actually strengthening those undesirable explosions!
Instead of feeling shame, guilt and regret, play a different video, one where we do the right thing and say the right thing. Just keep replaying that video. It would be more productive in helping us change our behaviour.
I hope you have enjoyed the 3-part series of Dealing with Anger. We have looked at WHAT anger is, WHY we choose to react with anger, and HOW we can deal with anger. In my next post, I will share a little more about why teaching and disciplining with love is more productive and effective than teaching and disciplining with fear.
If you have found this blog helpful to you, do share it with your friends! Thank you.
Unfortunately, yelling is not an effective parenting tool. Because if it were effective, we wouldn’t find ourselves yelling about the same thing over and over again.
Why is it not effective? Because it puts us on “fight” mode. Our children then see us as a threat which leads to them flipping on THEIR “fight” switch (they start rebelling more) or they flip on their “flight” mode (they start feeling depressed)
It is sooooo tempting to yell. I know. Cos I used to be a yeller. BIG TIME yeller.
Look, I didn’t yell for no reason. I knew constant yelling was useless because it only made the kids tune out, which meant I would have to get louder and louder to get their attention. No. I had reserved my yelling for when I needed their immediate corrective action.
I became a yeller when I first became a parent. And I yelled even more when I had my second child, C. I yelled because the kids weren’t listening when I talked to them nicely. They weren’t doing what they were told. I got tired of saying the same thing over and over again. I got mad. I felt my role as a parent being threatened. So I yelled, to get their attention, to show them I’m the boss, to tell them that’s it, no more warnings. And when I yelled, I typically startled myself. Yes, I was LOUD!
And one day, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. I saw something that should never be expressed in the eyes of young children. I saw immense fear in C’s eyes. She was just a tiny preschooler then. It was as if she had seen a monster. And I realised I was that monster.
Then I remembered. Yes, remembered because it is something I have always known but tend to forget when I am upset. I remembered my little ones were just children. They were still learning. Their brains were not mature enough to control their impulses. It was natural that they slipped up repeatedly.
I knew If I yelled every time they slipped up, they would start tuning me up. They might even start ganging up against me. So I ONLY yelled occasionally. But if I yelled when I felt it was the last straw, I became the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, unpredictable in my children’s eyes. I became my daughter’s biggest monster.
That was when I consciously veered away from yelling and researching for other more effective tools.
That was almost a decade ago. Did I still yell after that? Yes. With diminishing frequency, but yes, I still yelled. It took great discipline and self control on my part to not yell but teach and guide calmly.
In the last 5 years or so, I am glad I did not “explode” more than a couple of times. My breakthrough came earlier this year when I managed to control myself from yelling when I discovered my daughter (yes, the same one mentioned above) disregarded my rule for online safety and as a result became a victim of online grooming.
My daughter, my C, taught me to stop yelling. She was, and still is, my teacher. In fact, all my children are my greatest teachers. Because of them, I have become a much better human being.
For that, I am grateful.
What about you? Have you learned something because of your children? Pls share in the comments below.
The months of writing and editing Decoding Your Child finally came to fruition with a successful book launch on Apr 8, 2018.
So many friends came to support the launch. We even had a young couple who saw the event advertisement online and turned up. They are not even parents yet! How wonderful it is for young couples to learn ahead what parenting entails. I am sure this young couple will be well equipped with parenting skills and know-how when they become parents.
The idea of being prepared for parenting is so critical to the success of our children. When we are prepared, our parenting journey becomes smoother. Not only that, when our parenting journey is smooth, everything tends to flow more easily. Why? Because when we encounter problems with our children, our lives suffer, our relationship with our spouse suffers, our relationships with our parents and our parents-in-law also suffer. Parenting challenges affect our productivity and effectiveness at work too.
There is a Confucian saying, “Tidy up the family. Rule the country. Conquer the world.” In other words, to do great work, our family unit needs to be first taken care of. When our foundation is stable and strong, we can build “empires”. Hence, parenting is critical to our success.
Why Decode Our Children?
To parent successfully, and for everything in our lives to flow more smoothly, we need to decode our children. Why?
With decoding, there is understanding.
With understanding, there is empathy.
With empathy, there is acceptance.
With acceptance, there is patience.
With patience, there is tenderness.
With tenderness, there is connection.
And when there is connection…
When there is connection, there is cooperation.
When there is cooperation, there are less disciplinary issues.
When there are less disciplinary issues, parenting becomes a breeze.
When parenting becomes a breeze, life becomes easier
When life becomes easier, everyone is happier.
That’s when everyone is transformed.
And it all starts with DECODING YOUR CHILD.
I have so many people to thank for this successful launch.
Firstly, I must thank my family, without whom I will not even have a book to write. Juay has been my foundation, offering unwavering support and encouragement, doing everything needed to get the books printed and the venue all set up. My three children have done superbly as well. My teens helped man the various stations during the launch, registering guests and entertaining the children who were present at the launch. And my little one occupied herself and never once interrupted my talk and Q&A session. Thank you, darlings, for being the wind beneath my wings.
Next, I want to thank my sister Wendy Kwek. She is my mentor and sounding board for practically everything. She too worked hard behind the scene to help ensure the books turned out nicely and that the launch was a success. Thank you, jie, for always thinking about how to support my work and for covering my blindspots.
I also want to say big “Thank You” to my extended family who turned up for the book launch. Thank you, Michael and Susan Lau for the beautiful flowers. Thank you, Maureen Tan for your yummilicious cake. Thank you Angela Lau, Andrea Lau, Nicole Tan and Noah Tan for your purchases! It’s so heartwarming to be enveloped in your love and support during this milestone of my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
My deepest appreciation to many friends who chipped in to help: Patrick Koh for helping to find lost sheep and ushering them to the venue, Willie Yeo for helping with photography, Uantchern for the use of his cosy venue, and many many more who helped out but I was too distracted sharing with the guests and signing books to thank you individually. Thank you all for being such wonderful angels! 😛
The launch would definitely have not succeeded if not for ALL THE GUESTS who took the time on a Sunday afternoon to be there. So thank you, thank you, thank you, to each and everyone of you who were there! I was not expecting a full house turnout on a precious Sunday afternoon, but you guys came!! Thank you!!
Last but not least, my biggest THANK YOU goes to my mom, Doris Lau. How I wish she could be here to witness the book launch. She was the first person to ever ask me write a book years ago when I was sending her monthly journals of my parenting journey because we were living overseas. Mommy, I know you can see me from the heavens and I can feel your love. I love you and I miss you so much! Thank you for always believing in me.
GET YOUR COPY NOW!
Those of you who missed the Book Launch, fret not. The book is available for sale online. For a limited time, you can get yours at a special Book Launch SALE price.
Use the coupon code: BookLaunch2018. The coupon code expires on 16 Apr 2018 (UTC: +8:00)
We have all heard of the “Terrible Twos”, though personally, I do not feel the twos are terrible. There is also a phrase for teens. Can you guess what it is? Yes, “terrible teens”. But just as I do not believe in the terrible twos, I do not believe in the terrible teens too.
It is my belief that when we understand why our toddlers and teens behave the way they do, we can provide the understanding and support that they need. And once those core needs are met, the developmental phase will be over sooner than if we were to fight their development. And when we give the necessary support to our teens, they, and we, will emerge stronger and more complete.
So, do you feel like your young teen is behaving like a toddler? If you do, congratulations! Your teen is normal and you are not alone. Research has shown that our young teens, despite their physical size, do regress into toddlerhood. So how are they like toddlers?
1) Emotional Outbursts and Temper Tantrums
Most of us know our children have hit adolescence when we experience their explosive tempers. Like toddlers, they flare up when they do not get their way. Like toddlers, they throw a fit when they cannot get something done. Like toddlers, they are prickly and get bothered easily by other people. Little things seem to trigger them and they storm around like little tornadoes. Many times, our young teens feel angry and do not know why. Rest assured this is normal behavior.
What is going on?
Yes, hormones play a big part in the mood swings our young teens experience. But there is actually more going on.
Unlike our toddlers, our young teens are under a lot of stress from school, friends, parents and more. Typically, they are deemed to be young adults, capable of being responsible for their own schedule. However, research studies on the brain have shown that the prefrontal cortex of our young teens are not developed enough to do what we expect of them. They are easily distracted and unable to make or keep to schedule. What results then is a mismatch of our expectations against their capability. Unable to deliver results repeatedly, they feel stressed and demoralised. When we couple that with the hormones surging in their bodies, they cannot control the emotions that flare up as a result.
What could parents do?
It helps for us to understand the physiological and psychological development that our teens are going through. When we understand, we will naturally be more empathetic to our children. We will also then be able to provide appropriate support our children need. This is a time when we need to shower more love on our teens. Actually our children need us to shower love on them ALL THE TIME. But our young teens need even more of our love because they feel bewildered by their own emotional outbursts.
What to do with all those temper tantrums? It is our natural inclination to want to shut down these negative exhibitions of emotions, to insist our children “stop this nonsense” or “get a grip”. However, our teens need to feel safe to express themselves (as long as they do not go overboard with their tantrums). Luckily, most parents understand this has to do with the hormonal development in their young teens and do cut their children more slack.
However, we need to do even more. The answer to helping our teens get over their “tantrum” stage is actually rather counter-intuitive. The more they tantrum, the more love we need to shower upon them. It helps to tell our teens, “I understand you are upset. I’ll leave you alone while you work this through. But I am always available when you need to talk.” First, it signals our sensitivity towards how she is feeling. It also tells her we accept her for who she is. Finally, it lets her know she is not alone, that we are available for her. Then when the storm blows over, we can talk things over and resolve issues together. But at the point of our teen throwing a tantrum, our shutting them down does nothing to help. They may not exhibit their tantrums in the future, but their relationship with us would be severely strained.
Of course, there will be times when their temper tantrums go overboard and they start hitting people or smashing objects. What do we do then? That is the time when we have to draw the line and let them know that is not an acceptable behaviour. We need to be firm when setting this boundary. However, we need to understand that our teens need to physically expel the energy that wells up within them and we can help them redirect their energy into sports. I usually tell my son to go for a run or do some pushups to work off the energy.
2) The Need For Independence
Remember the time when our toddlers want to do everything themselves from putting on their own clothes to tying their own shoes laces? Remember how they disintegrate into tears and tantrums when they cannot do it and yet still refuse any help? Well, our teens go through that too. They want to be independent. They think they know what they need to do. They think they can do it. They want us to stop directing them or controlling them. But what happens? Things do not get done. They get distracted. They forget. They fail to manage their time well enough to do what needs to be done. Then the whole world comes down upon them. Teachers punish them for not getting their school work done. Parents punish them for getting into trouble with school, for not being disciplined enough. And our children fly into a rage. Sounds familiar?
What is going on?
It is a natural and healthy phenomenon for our teens to exert their independence. After all, we cannot baby them all their lives, can we? However, many parents make the mistake of thinking their teens have grown up and hand independence totally to their teens only to realize that their teens keep messing up again and again.
In some ways our teens may appear mature. They can reason. They can think. They know right from wrong. Whether they exhibit that maturity all the time or not is another question. Despite their seemingly mature behavior, the brain power of our young teens is not mature enough to hold on to the prize at the end of their toil. They may know they have a project due at the end of the week, but they are easily distracted. And the reason that happens is because their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for making decisions, is still under-developed. Even in their distraction, they are not worried about the looming deadline because they strongly believe they have things under control, that they can deliver results. Then before they realize it, the deadline hits them in their faces and it dawns upon them that they cannot do it. Then panic, shame, guilt, and fear grip them. Roll these emotions up with their hormones and their lack of self control, we get an emotional eruption.
What could parents do?
Again, understanding what our teens are going through and understanding why they are doing what they are doing help a great deal. It does not make the teens right in behaving or reacting the way they do. It just helps us manage our own expectations and realize our teens actually need more help than they, or even we, think.
Many parents believe that once our children hit the teen years, they should be mature enough to manage themselves and their school work. That cannot be further away from the truth. Our 11 and 12 year-olds are more capable of self discipline and time management than when they reach 13 and 14 years old. And yes, I am talking about the same child. That is why parents are typically taken aback by the “slacking” they observe in their young teens. However, research has shown that this regression is normal. Unfortunately, it is highly counter-intuitive to parents that when their children hit the teen years, they need more supervision and guidance than they did a year or two ago. Many parents resist and resent having to give that extra supervision. “You are old enough to….” is a common adage we hear from parents when they talk to their teens. That is why understanding how the teens’ brains develop and understanding how they think will help us a great deal in helping and supporting our teens.
So how do we support our teens in their quest for independence? On the one hand, we need to acknowledge that we must grant them independence. The more we suppress their independence, the more they will fight for and struggle for it. On the other hand, we know they cannot manage total independence. It is a fine balance between giving our teens the independence they need and ensuring we hold the reins tight enough for them to get things done.
So what should we do?
Threats and punishments for non-compliance have little or no effect in changing our teens’ behavior, which is why parents tend to get really exasperated. What our teens need from us at this stage is our guidance even if they hate to ask for or to get it from us. One solution is to give them freedom to decide what to do when it is their free time (as long as it is not illegal or morally wrong). However, when it comes to important stuff, like their school work or their safety, we need to micromanage a little more. Our children have reached the age where, unfortunately, we need to provide constant vigilance. We cannot leave them alone and trust they can get things done. Our constant vigilance will include giving them reminders, asking them to show us what has been done on a daily basis, or even sitting down with them while they get their work done.
When we understand why we need to reinvest the time and energy on our teens to keep them on track, we will be less resentful and more empathetic. Our teens will sense our acceptance of them and be grateful to us for being there when they need us. Of course, they will not realize this till they are in their twenties, but we are parenting for the long term, aren’t we?
In my next post, I will cast light on more ways our teens are like toddlers. Stay tuned to understand why our young teens behave the way they do and what we can do to support them.
Till the next time, dig deep into your reserve for patience and empathy. Do share with us whether the two strategies above help you understand and manage your young teen a little better.