More fun, less fightingIf you keep having the same arguments with your kid, try these smart and surprising ideas to restore the peace
I walked in the door the other day and promptly tripped over my son's backpack, sending a bag of groceries, car keys, and mail flying across the front hall.
"AJ!" I shouted up the stairs. "You need to move your stuff. Now!"
He emerged from his room and appeared at the top of the staircase, looking baffled. "What stuff?" he asked.
"This!" I shouted, pointing to his backpack, shoes, and laptop computer, all dumped in a pile. "I tell you the same thing every day!"
Indeed, I do. I also say, "Hang up your wet towel," "Put away your clothes," and "Don't put empty containers back into the pantry." It's completely predictable, as are AJ's responses: "Why hang up a towel that's going in the wash anyway?"; "It's my room — I don't care if it's messy!"; and "I didn't do it!"
It's Groundhog Day, with teenagers. Kids this age are wired to argue, says Michael Bradley, Ed.D., author of When Things Get Crazy With Your Teen. "It's actually a healthy phase of development," he explains. "If a kid says, 'Why should I put it away? I'm just going to pick it up again on the way out,' he's thinking for himself in a new way. They disagree, question authority, and push boundaries — it's a normal part of growing up."
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That's not to say, however, that the bickering doesn't drive you bonkers — or that you have to tolerate it.
Since the usual responses (yelling, nagging, and making empty threats) often exacerbate the problem, swap them for these clever — and surprising — tactics that will restore the peace in your home.
Your Impulse: Bring up every little misdeed
A Smarter Strategy: Decide what's worth fighting for
Honestly, now: Is an unmade bed a federal crime? Which is to say, it's better to choose which issues are big enough to battle over, advises Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, and to bite your tongue about the small stuff. You'll be rewarded with much less bickering. One tactic: Jot down everything you nag your kid about during a typical day and then pick three things to focus on, suggests Borba — more than that will feel overwhelming to her, and she'll tune you out. "Usually the top three are the recurring arguments that create a rift between you--whether it's a perpetually messy room, too much texting, or breaking curfew," Borba says. Tell your teen that you are going to focus on those three things, then look for quick, easy solutions, Borba suggests. "Ask your kid: 'What will help you?' It could be ridiculously simple — say, placing a basketball hoop over the hamper so he tosses his dirty clothes in."
Your Impulse: Lay out the consequences
A Smarter Strategy: Have a few surprises up your sleeve
In general, yes, you want kids to know there will be consequences for misdeeds — that's Parenting 101. But adding an element of surprise can be amazingly effective when dealing with endless arguments. "Instead of pleading for tidiness while putting away your child's backpack for the umpteenth time, stash his book bag in your own closet," says Leah Klungness, Ph.D., author of The Complete Single Mother. When your kid gets around to looking for it and asks, "Where's my book bag?" calmly respond, "Well, where did you leave it?" and wait it out.
Admittedly, adds Klungness, this can get tricky for parents. "Our usual role is to soothe and fix, and here you're going to allow your child to feel a bit of panic and confusion." Let some time elapse--about 15 minutes or so — before returning the bag. Now that you've got your kid's attention, explain that the next time the book bag isn't put away, there will be worse consequences. (Don't specify what — it's better to leave him wondering what you have up your sleeve.) Then, when there's another infraction, quietly follow through with some action, whether it's taking away video games for a week or cutting his allowance.
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Admit it — you do these things, too! And that's OK. But maybe — just maybe — it's time to think about changing things up a little bit, for the sake of your sanity, your relationship with your kids, and because life's too short.
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