In my blog post last month http://caloteens.com/blog/post/Automatic-or-Manual.aspx I challenged readers to adjust their “lens” when interacting with difficult children or teens from, “this student is not trying hard enough” to “this student is dong his/her best. His/her behaviors are adaptations.”
How did you do? It is pretty tough to take the perspective that when a teenager is wildly disrespectful, controlling, negative or acting out behaviorally that they are doing their best isn’t it? In fact, the teen might also agree that they are not trying hard enough but not know why or how to change. However, if we peel away the layers and see the behaviors (disrespect, controlling, manipulating) as symptoms of a deeper issue (fear of rejection, abandonment, need to feel unconditional love and acceptance) we can take a more proactive approach towards connection and healing.
In tangible terms, when Sally is once again disrespectful and rude and you determine she is not trying hard enough to be polite you are implicitly declaring you have exhausted all of your teaching and parental guidance; especially if you then give her a consequence. In addition, you are likely hoping that the consequence will magically facilitate intrinsic change. If this is your stance, there is a possibility you may be correct—perhaps you really have exhausted all of the effective parental guidance, modeling, and teaching enough and Sally truly does need a consequence. However, before you assume you have done all you can do, I urge you to pause and first assume the position of, “Sally is doing the best she can right now. Her disrespect and attitude are communicating a deeper need.” Your subsequent perspective and intervention(s) may drastically change if you do so. You may be surprised if indeed Sally really needs more coaching, modeling and guidance instead of you telling her to stop talking that way, calm down, trust you, more consequences, and so forth. Put frankly—is there a chance that you have verbalized what you want repeatedly but have not taken the time to involve her, coach her, or model for her what you expect from her?
One of my favorite Chinese Proverbs reminds us of this principle: “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand.”
In closing--keep trying! If you shift your paradigm to “my child is doing the best he can” and allow your interventions to change, “let me involve him so he understands” I truly believe your relationship will grow deeper roots and your child will feel more love and acceptance.
Please contact me if you would like to discuss this further.