It's easy to parent when everything is going well. Those times can become teachable moments. "Here, son, let me throw you a few pitches. Let's see if we can get that swing level." You want to teach. He wants to learn. Easy parenting.
But what about the hard part of parenting, when confronting your child about his behavior or attitude adjustment? That's hard, no matter how you size it up. "I am your father! Do what I tell you." Or, the old standby, "Because I said so." You might get compliance, but at what cost? His behavior might change...for the moment. But that change will be out of fear. And when the heat if off, he goes back to old habits.
There is an art to effective confronting. Confrontation can be a very teachable moment, when it is carried out with respect and in service to the relationship. Imagine that you've asked your son to clean up his room repeatedly over several days, to no avail. You could bring the hammer down and give him consequences. I've known parents who simply picked up all items left on the floor and thrown them away, toys, clothes, papers, electronics, all of it. Pretty ineffective confrontation. The floor is cleaned off, but the soul is shattered and the relationship is filled with fear and anger. No respect, no relationship.
An effective confrontation has three parts: an observable behavior, your feelings about that behavior, and the tangible and concrete effect of that behavior on you. "Luke, when I've asked you repeatedly to clean the floor up in your room and put everything where it belongs, and you blow it off, I feel ignored and disrespected. I fear bugs and other critters could be under that mess and that would present a health hazard to all of us. Part of our being a family is everybody sharing the load. This is your load."
Once you've laid the confrontation out as clearly as you can, be prepared for blowback. No one ever likes to be confronted. There will be defensiveness. Use your active listening skills, empathy, to address your child's defensiveness. When you see his emotional fever lowering, becoming less defensive, then resume with another version of your confrontation. Confront, empathy, confront will put your child in the best position to comply with your expectations...with respect and relationship intact.
You have a child or children? You're in charge. Will your children challenge your authority? You bet. In fact one of my universal truths in Teachable Moments is that Children Will Always Test the Limits. They test them to be sure that they are there. Children are fearful and anxious when they are in charge. Their brains have not yet developed the capacity for abstract thinking, so making abstract decisions are terrifying for them. Unconsciously, they will run wild, break things, and disobey specifically to force you to take charge of them. That's how anxious having authority is for them.
How do you get your parental authority? Of course, you acquire it with the birth of your child. By definition, the parent is in charge. This kind of authority is based on power, dominance, and fear. "Because I said so, young man." "I am your father. Do what I say." Your child will respond to you when you act with this "acquired authority," but at what cost? You have an obedient child, but no relationship. This kind of teen can't wait to move out when they graduate. This youngster accepts sleepover invitations from their friends who have "cool" parents. Do you want obedience at the cost of relationship, or do you want to engage your child with relationship?
With earned authority, you make effort to understand your child's feelings and needs. You focus on relationship and make decisions based on the needs, feelings, and greater good of the family. You join your child in the endless discovery of your surroundings. You know his likes, dislikes, and the meaning behind his words. You set boundaries and give consequences based on what the child is developmentally ready for and how he interacts with his world. You use your empathy and active listening to help him grow in understanding of his feelings.
Our God is loving, understanding, and compassionate. He showed us mercy by sending His Son to offer salvation. We are charged to raise our kids with that same love and compassion. Is your parental authority acquired only, or is it earned as well. The choice is yours.
Verbal and nonverbal communication. They are the substance of relationship in your family. My mama cautioned me, "Mean what you say, and say what you mean." No room for misinterpretation there.
Verbal communication in relationship building gets all the press. Nonverbal communication is often seen merely as the backdrop for verbal communication. However, each is vital and instrumental in creating emotionally healthy relationships. Teens in particular are a jumble of words and actions. If you zoom in on your teen's words, you will miss vital information to help decode what she is trying to say.
Perceptive parents will find themselves noticing disparity between their child's words and actions. "I hear what you are saying, but your actions don't match your words. What else is going on?" For children in general, and for teens in particular, a rule of thumb is to believe everything your child does, and nothing he says. A shuffling gait can mean "I don't want to go." An eye roll or shoulder shrug can mean "Leave me alone." A vacant gaze can mean "All I hear right now is blah, blah, blah. I'm not getting it, or I don't want to."
Children are good at picking up nonverbal cues also. Because kids are the emotional barometer of what's going on in the family, they know what we are feeling long before we know. If your words and actions don't match, watch out.
With advanced computer technology and smart phones, we are smack in the age of Double Speak. Texting short cuts, emoticons, abbreviations all put the English language at risk. Did you know that "0bl8" means "Don't be late"? All of this make it more important for parents to keep up with gadgets, gizmos, and Double Speak. It will all help you relate to your child meaningfully, and also catch them before big trouble when they are testing the limits.
To avoid the pitfalls of Double Speak, mean both what you say and what you do.