Don’t Respond to Everything — and Watch Things Get Better
If you’re the type of parent who cannot “let it go,” you are almost destined to have conflicts with your child.
Marci is like that. She says that she cannot tolerate sassiness and backtalk from her teenage son.
“When I confronted him once about being sassy to me, he got an even greater attitude and I slapped him,” Marci confessed. “That’s when he said he was going to live with his father.”
Diane is like that, too. “My daughter is only nine,” Diane says, “and I didn’t expect her to be disrespectful and sarcastic yet. But she is. And when she gets a tone, I have to say something to her.”
However, Diane has also learned that confronting her daughter doesn’t make things any better. “She has to have the last word – just I like do,” she says. “So we end up getting mad at each other.”
Diane says her husband and friends have told her to just let some of that go. “I try,” Diane says, “but I have trouble doing that. It’s like I’m compelled to say something.” She says that she feels like if she doesn’t say something to her daughter, that her daughter’s sassiness and disrespect will get worse and worse.
Paul has similar concerns about his two children. “I can’t just ignore things,” Paul says. “If they’re wrong, then I have to say something.”
It’s not that you’re a bad parent or unable to parent effectively if you have to respond to everything that upsets or bothers you. It’s just that there are so many issues with children and teens, if you’re what I tend to call an “active intervener,” then you’ll be intervening all the time.
Diane comments that while she doesn’t let her daughter get away with backtalk, sassiness, or a sarcastic tone, she also tends to talk to her frequently about her temper, her schoolwork, her fights with her sister, and the way she treats her friends. “I seem to be on her for everything,” Diane comments. “She tells me I’m always yelling at her and I think from her point of view she’s probably right.”
That’s one of the problems with being an active intervener and trying to deal with every issue. Your child will feel like you’re always yelling or criticizing them. Also, when you pounce on every misdeed by your child, you don’t give them a chance to correct their own behavior. In addition, you may fail to give yourself a chance for reflection and a better understanding of underlying issues or problems.
For example, when Jeffrey was helping his 15-year-old son with his English homework, he asked his son to read aloud the chapter review questions he was trying to answer.
“Why do I have to do that?” his son asked sarcastically. “I do a lot of reading in school and you’re trying to make me read at home. I’m not going to do it!”
Jeffrey’s impulse was to confront him and demand that he do it. “Yes, you are going to do it,” Jeffrey responded. “This is important for you to learn.”
“Why should I do it; I already know how to read,” his son said.
Jeffrey waited a beat before he reacted – for the most part, he admitted later, because he was so mad he couldn’t trust what he was going to say or do. But in that brief delay, he had an insight: He’s probably embarrassed by his poor reading skills. So, Jeffrey responded in a different, less confrontational manner.
“How about if I read the questions, then you try to answer them?”
“Cool,” his son said. They were able to proceed without a fight or hostility.
By giving yourself a chance to listen to what may be going on underneath the sassy, oppositional, or even defiant behavior you get from your child, you have a chance to come up with a more appropriate reaction that may cool tempers on both sides.