It’s all very well starting off on the right foot with children and teenagers, getting communication flowing, setting up spaces, establishing a few key rules and so forth -but what tends to happen over time is that these things erode and things can become fraught again. These tips will help you to stay on top of things and persevere with workable ways of dealing with situations.
1. Don’t lose your temper.
Things can go wrong at times and sometimes that is the child’s fault, no question. What matters next is what is important: are you going to respond in a way which helps to resolve the situation, or which worsens it? This is where, as adults, we have to watch our own internal thinking a bit more. If a teenager in particular has done something alarming or with which you don’t agree, it’s perfectly feasible that you will feel justified in losing your temper and verbally attacking them. While there are times when anger might be an appropriate emotional response to a situation, there is never a time when uncontrolled anger is a workable response. Children, especially teenagers, need to see that you as an adult have a grip on yourself and your moods for two main reasons: rampant fury is always destructive and, whatever the rightnesses or wrongnesses of a situation, causes the person on the receiving end to become defensive purely out of self-preservation, which gets you nowhere; and you are their key role model - if you ‘lose it’, that makes it OK for them to lose it too. And that gets you worse than nowhere. Stay calm, even if you have to pretend to be angry to get a point across. There’s a world of difference between displaying anger because it is appropriate, and unleashing anger because you’ve lost control. The first gets things moving forwards; the second drags things backwards. Children can see and respect the difference.
2. Invest in good dictionaries, reference books and other resources.
You can’t always be there to answer questions about the world, which become more and more specialised and technical as the child grows older. One of the best things my parents ever did was invest in a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica (back in the days before the World Wide Web and Google). It supported me throughout my senior schooling and ensured good grades in a range of subjects by making knowledge easily accessible. Now, with all of human knowledge just a click away, it’s even easier to provide for children and teenagers by setting up a stable computer of some kind. They will need good dictionaries and trustworthy reference books too so that they aren’t completely reliant on the internet. Build a structure around children which makes it easy for them to find answers to their questions and watch as their confidence in themselves and understanding of the world grows.
3. Keep sleep under control.
One of the key things which can easily ‘sabotage’ the best laid plans of any family is lack of sleep. This means your sleep as well as theirs. Teenagers need far more sleep than they think they do - and probably you do too. It’s not always easy to keep a sleep schedule in yourself, let alone on a protesting teenager, but the effects of not getting enough sleep are very clear: study, relationships and health can all be undermined. Encourage plenty of sleep and create an environment where going to sleep and staying asleep is as straightforward as can be under the circumstances. This can include removing electronics from the bedroom as well as making beds and rooms as comfortable and interruption-free as possible.
4. Keep family time in.
Even with the best will in the world, over time teenagers can drift off into their own worlds and feel separated out from the rest of the family. Part of this is natural as they discover their own tastes, likes, dislikes and directions in the world, but it can get to a point where they can feel something missing and suffer because of that. Try to build routines into a week where a significant portion of time is spent together as a group. It doesn’t have to be every day, but it should be a regular occurrence. Encourage teenagers to see the family as their primary support group, rather than something to get away from.
5. Expect some ups and downs.
How you manage all of this, even with all of these tips in place and routines and rules firmly established, will depend primarily upon your expectations as a parent. Your first mistake will be to imagine that everything will always run smoothly with no hiccoughs. There will be upsets and times when things are a struggle. If you expect that and allow for some flexibility, you will be better able to return to times of positivity and order. If you think in absolute terms and want a completely 'hassle-free' existence then, when hassles come (as they inevitably will) you can make the further mistake of concluding that the ordered times were built on false premises and that therefore everything has to be thrown out of the window so you can make a completely ‘fresh start’. That would be an over-reaction. Allowing for some degree of disturbance in the otherwise tranquil life you’re trying to put together means that you will never lose sight of the tranquil times and what created them.
Perseverance is as important as having principles in the first place. Tips, or any forms of advice, only work if applied over time. Stick with it, using these pointers, and you will succeed in the long term.