Sue Scheff: Arguing with Teenagers: Don’t Take the Bait
I absolutely love this website for all parents and guardians raising kids. Not to mention educators that work with kids. This article is particularly interesting since I was a parent that took that bait! Oh, hindsight is great!
It’s a popular phrase in my house: “Don’t take the bait.” We have variances on it including “don’t be a fish,” “some one is fishing,” and the most popular “looks like you’re going to land a big one.” With 5 kids in the house, several of who are close in age, they joke, tease, and well, see who can get a rise out of whom. A product of an only child family, I was deeply disturbed by this behavior when they were younger. I lecturing about home being a sanctuary and that no one was to be teased ever! I have come to accept that as a family with ADHD, and maybe every family has this to some degree- boredom breeds a little teasing/ poking/ fishing. The nature of the teasing has changed- due to my insistence that relationships be nurtured and that personal attacks are harmful- its rarely name calling or about a person’s attributes or personality- because that gets you in a time out and period of service for the offended- but rather the teasing is simply irksome prankish behavior designed to get your goat- like slowly delivering a fork to a sibling, as they wait at the table staring at a warm brownie covered in melting ice cream or getting in the bathroom before a sibling and then taking their time to brush their teeth as the time to leave for the bus approaches. I think every family with more than 1 child has something going on like this….
What I had not expected is to forget to take my own advice. Yesterday, my 13-year-old landed a big one- his mother. Amid a discussion about how he chose to react to sibling’s behavior, my 13-year-old erupted with the statement, “ Mom you always pick favorites- I know he is your favorite.” Before I knew it, I was defending my response to the sibling; instead of addressing the 13-year-old’s behavior. I became so angry that I walked away before I said something I did not mean. (While that is important to do when you feel out of control- it also ended the engagement.) It was masterful- he had managed to completely derail me, and escape reflection on his own behavior….
I had forgotten my golden rule of managing teenagers, prepare for being baited or having your buttons pushed. Don’t take the bait, always have your unemotional response ready to keep the conversation on track. On one of my better days I would have said, “ I am sorry you see it that way, you need to apologize to your brother for your part of the disagreement.” I would have repeated that statement regardless of what he said in response. Teenagers, and well any child will find your weak spot and exploit it, when they feel pinned into a corner. As parents it is our job to control our responses and be ready, even when we are not at our best.
After I cooled off, I circled back with my cool, “ I love you. You need to apologize to your brother for your part in the disagreement.” He stomped his feet and slammed a door- but he apologized to his brother and even added “what can we do to fix this between us- “ It ended in laughter between both brothers and as the 13 year old and I processed our disagreement later, we laughed at the big one he had landed.
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