So many parents are concerned about how stressed out their teens are. Helping them cope with stress can be tricky when it seems like they don’t want our help or interference. I asked Jennifer Salerno to write a blog for you based on her book, Teen Speak, an essential guide in communicating with your teen. Teenagers seem like they don’t want us around, but when we connect in ways they can hear, we provide the support they both need and want.
Q. I’m concerned about my almost 15 year-old boy. He is depressed and with good reason. He is slightly on the spectrum and has A.D.D. (no hyperactivity). We’ve moved twice in 14 months and we’re currently renting. He is a creature of habit and our lives have been very unpredictable for almost three years. He lost his baby brother when he was 6 and had to deal with Mom and Dad’s grief. He is totally quiet at school and therefore not making friends. He has never really talked much, especially about emotions. My husband is not open to much of anything except talking with him. He is very open with my husband, thankfully, but my husband is very unpredictable and emotional.
All parents struggle with fears and worries about their children and many end up just getting in their own way. When you take your children’s behavior personally and use your authority to control them to do what you want, you may wind up creating the scenario you most fear.
The problem comes when we think it’s our children who need to change when indeed it is us. Whatever you need to do to get to acceptance is the answer.
The following is a story from one of my clients that I find truly inspiring. Her struggles to understand her son and ultimately herself have led to a wonderful relationship. I hope it motivates you to trust your children and let go of a small bit of your fears. You will always have fears and doubts — you wouldn’t be a conscientious parent without them. But in the moment, when your child needs your connection, you must be able to at least temporarily put those fears aside.
Handling Big Emotions and Understanding the Behavior
Q. We had an episode with our 5 1/2 yr. old son. For the past 2 years, we have tried every approach. Our son is smart but immature. We feel he lacks confidence and tends to hold things in rather than talk. I tried to get to the root cause but he still won’t budge (one might say stubborn). Tonight he was off the wall jumping on chairs, interrupting when I had someone over and had to help them work. No matter how many times my husband or I ask him to stop jumping on chairs, he would say “no never”. He has a temper – will hit, throw, slam doors, spit and call us “stupid” or say “never” when we’re explaining how we want him to stop hitting and start listening. However, his tantrums have become less frequent and recovering has become quicker except tonight. Usually he’ll go through the tantrum and then start crying. If we try to challenge him and he’s in the mood, he’ll do it. But most of the time, he’ll say, no let’s do something totally different or I can’t or don’t know how. If I say I’ll show you, then he’ll whine and say he’s a baby. He always has a comeback. What do you think?
What to do when a child refuses warm clothes
Q. I am stuck on an issue with my almost 4 yr. old son. He has been insisting on wearing shorts and t-shirts for the last few months no matter what the weather. When this came up, refusing coats/long sleeves/pants, I went with it, allowing him choice in clothing. I thought, when he gets really cold, he’ll put on more clothes. He didn’t. I compromised and allowed him to wear leg warmers, long socks, etc. It got colder and colder and he wasn’t adjusting at all. Finally, I insisted that he wear pants and a coat when necessary (during an evening out he became so cold, was shivering, and claiming he wasn’t cold and temps were in the 30’s). He has fought it completely. He doesn’t want to leave the house because it means putting clothes on. He willget dressed but its only if I practically force him to. I have held firm though, as this has been our most recent decision on how to handle this. It’s not getting easier. I considered it could be a sensory issue but I don’t think it is based in what he tells me and how he acts when he’s dressed. He will pull his pant legs up and want them rolled up like shorts, however, he’ll wear leg warmers and any kind of material of pant. I thought he might be trying to control this part of his life because recently we cut all screen time and he had no choice in the matter.
Pull-ups for Poops
Q. My 4 yo daughter won’t poop on the potty/toilet. She uses a pull-up to poop (she is very independent in the process). She holds it if she isn’t at home. She is totally fine with peeing in the toilet and has been for about 2 years now. Two things I think are contributing are that she gets constipated and has had some pain with pooping. She says she isn’t ready to go on the toilet because she’s scared it will hurt more. We are working with her Dr. on resolving the constipation and in the last couple months it’s been a lot better. She also regressed in this area when her baby sister was born. I’m not sure if that’s still part of it or not after a year and a half. She does have a few “baby” things she still wants to do, so maybe this is one of those things too. She has said she knows she’s too big to still poop in a pull up (her dad and I have never said anything like that to her). We have tried really hard not to make a big deal about it and let her decide to do it on her own, but I’d really like to stop buying pull-ups!
Old Beliefs Interfere with Appropriate Discipline
Q. I could never argue my case to my parents and was told not to sass them and be quiet or I wouldn’t get to do what I wanted or I’d have privileges taken away. I don’t like how my parents handled this, but I still ended up believing that if I don’t give consequences/punishments to my child, he will keep misbehaving. I will, however, let him make his case when he’s older.
Our son is 4 yrs. old. We have a rule not to get into daddy’s toolbox in the garage. He was drawn to one particular tool. I’ve explained that the tools are expensive and that he can only use them with an adult. After 3 times getting the same tool, I finally put it up high. A few days ago I was out in the yard and came back to the garage to find he’d gotten out a tube of Ultra Black. It’s VERY gooey, thick, black silicone stuff. It was an ultra PAIN to wash off his hands and feet. We also have a rule to stay in the back yard, which we’ve gone over MANY times—he still goes out of the back yard. (We’re waiting for a new fence to be installed.) Is a natural consequence of going out of the backyard that he can’t play outside any more that day? Do I just talk to him about this rule? Are my expectations too high thinking he will just stay in the back yard? Same for not getting into the toolbox?
Refusing the Toilet
Q. My 3 yr old daughter goes to a small home daycare and uses the toilet there without accidents but refuses to use the toilet at home. I understand that it’s more of a control issue than a potty training issue. I have been letting her wear pull ups at home as long as she puts them on herself. She still refuses to try the toilet. There hasn’t been any event that I can think of that would have scared her. She is very verbal and will tell me that she just doesn’t like to use our potty. She won’t poop at daycare either. She holds it until she gets home and gets a pull up on and then she goes.
Is it lack of confidence or too much control?
Q. Our 5-year old boy is struggling with confidence. He has difficulty focusing at school and we don’t want him to get behind. There are 22 kids in his class and the school has an expectation of work. Also has trouble focusing at soccer practice/games, anytime things are going on around him. He has no issues interacting with people, kids or adults. I believe he lacks confidence because he is afraid of trying new things. He doesn’t like to fail and gets frustrated easily when he can’t learn fast. He also gets very embarrassed when things don’t go as expected.
Parents of teens tear their hair out wondering what happened to that child who cooperated at least some of the time, listened once in a while, and adjusted to the limits set some of the time. Now an attitude seems to replace that child and an alien has taken over.
The thing is, your child is the same child, but she is growing up and pushing out. She must separate from her dependency on you. She must make decisions on her own, take responsibility for herself, and navigate among her world of peers.