Does Everything Have To Be An Argument?


The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 149 · Duration: 00:16:30

Does Everything Have To Be An Argument?

What do you do, when your 15 year old son, turns even a simple request into an argument?

We’ll talk about this and more on this week’s podcast, Does Everything Have To Be An Argument?

Before we get to the question we’re answering today, I want to acknowledge the unbelievably difficult time we’re in. Between COVID-19 and the limitations it’s placing on our lives and the havoc it’s wreaking on the economy and the latest evidence of gross police brutality against Blacks, and the divisive behavior and lack of leadership from the President, it’s a horrible time.

There’s lots of opportunity here to engage your teenagers and young adults in discussions of racism, institutional racism and with the whole subject of coping with crisis. Since we all know that it’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness, talk with your teenagers about lighting a candle.

  • Is there a way they can reach out and help someone?
  • Do they want to join the protest and how?
  • What experiences have they had with racism?

All white people need to know that being Black in America, means being seen suspiciously by Whites virtually all the time. My Black clients, including doctors and professors, all report being traffic stopped on a regular basis for no apparent reason whatsoever.

There are lots of podcasts on current events, racism, the coronavirus and the economy. And with all this going on, there are still plenty of parenting challenges so that is what I’ll keep the focus on with the Healthy Family Connections podcast. And with that said, today we’re hearing from Eddie from Michigan and Eddie writes:

My 15 year old son is really a good kid, with some differences. ADHD for sure, we don’t know what else. He could play video games all day and night if you let him. Hecares about good grades but takes forever to do simple homework assignments, mostly because he won’t stay focused on his work since he can do a lot of other things on his device. The problem is almost anything can turn into an argument and a Control Battle. Homework is always a battle, but really anything; here’s an example. At dinner, he wipes his face with his napkin and puts it on the table. We ask him to keep it on his lap. He refuses and says it’s stupid, he can get to it easier on the table and he doesn’t want to put a dirty napkin on his lap. If we insist, it escalates. Do we just ignore this behavior and write it off to choose your battles? It feels like he’s winning and doesn’t have to do what we say.

Thanks for your question Eddie.

It’s an important one because you’re illustrating an important point. I’m sure many of you are thinking, wow, you’re worried about where your kid puts his napkin? My kid won’t eat with the family, but it doesn’t matter, big or small, Control Battles create a toxic emotional environment that makes everyone feel unsafe, damages child and adolescent development, and causes parental burnout. And whether Control Battles are minor or major the effects are destructive and unnecessary.

So let’s understand a couple of basic principles that will guide you out of your ongoing Control Battle with your somewhat differently wired son.

Basic Principals of Your Ongoing Control Battle

In your question Eddie, you say if you let the behavior go, “it feels like he’s winning and doesn’t have to do what we say.”

Here is principle #1: He doesn’t have to do what you say.

Kids and teens don’t have to do what we say and they prove that to us all the time. Not only that, but we don’t even want them to blindly do what we say. Of course we love cooperation from our kids and we could use a lot more of it than we get. And with differently wired kids, it’s even more challenging to get that cooperation, but with a Control Battle in place, it is harder still to get that cooperation, so end the Control Battle, get more cooperation.

Why do I say we don’t want them to blindly do what we say? Because raising kids is about helping them learn and grow. We want them to be able to think for themselves and use good judgment as they enter their young adult and adult years. We want them to know how to solve problems, set limits for themselves, and essentially grow and utilize their executive functions.

So the bottom line is we don’t want or expect them to do what we say. We want them to decide that doing what we request is a good idea for them as well as for us and to learn the principles behind what we’re asking them to do. For instance, taking care of responsibilities is important for their life to go well.

We want our teenages to decide that doing what we request is a good idea for them as well as for us and to learn the principles behind what we’re asking them to do.Click To Tweet

Principle #2: We love our kids and they love us.

They want us to be happy with them and of course at the same time, they want what they want and don’t want what they don’t want. They will cooperate a heck of a lot more if we affirm them and keep things from looking like we’re trying to get them to blindly obey us.

So Eddie, Here is how we will put these two basic principles to work. First let me demonstrate a Control Battle conversation that you want to avoid:

You say: Marcus, please take your napkin off the table and put it on your lap.
Marcus: No, I like it on the table.
You: But it’s gross, nobody wants to see a napkin on the table
Marcus: I don’t like putting a dirty napkin on my pants
You: Marcus, that’s the rule, please take your napkin off the table and put it on your lap like the rest of us.
Marcus: I don’t see why it’s a big deal
You: Just do as we ask

Sound familiar? Okay, now a better way to have the conversation.

Dad: Marcus please take your napkin off the table and put it on your lap.
Marcus: No, I like it on the table.
Dad: That’s interesting, Why is that?
Marcus: It’s much easier to get to when I need it. It takes too much time to keep putting it up and off of my lap. Besides, once it’s dirty, I don’t want it in my lap.
Dad: Wow, those are some ideas I haven’t thought of. I can see where it makes sense that way. Much more efficient and thanks for explaining it. Can I give you my explanation for why we keep napkins on our laps?
Marcus: If you have to.
Dad: I don’t have to of course but I’d like to. Generally, people don’t want to see other people’s used napkins. It has saliva and food particles on it and we generally don’t want to show that to people and people don’t want to see it. The general idea is that you use one side of the napkin for wiping your mouth on and the other side is kept clean for putting on you lap. You are absolutely right though, it is a bit more work to do all that.
Marcus: Yeah, too much work; I’m just going to do it my way.
Dad: Whatever. Just keep in mind if you go to someone’s house for dinner or if we have company or we’re out to dinner, consider the lap method so you don’t embarrass yourself. It isn’t the biggest deal in the world, it’s mostly a matter of custom. After all, in some countries, people eat with their fingers. But even in those countries, they have certain customs that make some eating behaviors acceptable and others completely unacceptable. For instance, eating with the right hand is correct but eating with the left hand is considered gross. So different cultures have different ideas for manners.
Marcus: I think I’d like an eating with your fingers culture.
Dad: Okay, we could look for an authentic Moroccan or Ethiopian restaurant sometime, that would be great. But before we do, would you look up what the correct finger eating etiquette is so that we don’t embarrass ourselves.
Marcus: Okay, cool.

Eddie, do you get what happened here. We got totally away from anything that smacked of a Control Battle and turned the event into a productive conversation.

In this version, you didn’t get offended by your son’s beliefs, choices, or his negative tone. You stayed positive and moved your son from a position of defiance to one of collaboration and engagement.

So parents, therapists and folks who work with parents or kids, let’s all learn from Eddie’s question. Getting our kids to follow the rules is not the goal. In fact when we focus on it, we end up in dead end Control Battles. Helping our kids learn and grow is the right goal and if you keep that in mind, even when we’re setting limits or asking for cooperation, we’ll see opportunity rather than defiance.

Getting our kids to follow the rules is not the goal. In fact when we focus on it, we end up in dead end Control Battles.Click To Tweet

Thanks for tuning in today everyone and special thanks to Eddie for his most valuable question.

How Parents Can Get Additional Support with Raising Teens

During this time of profound disruption, don’t hesitate to reach out for help, your local mental health resources are very much there, mostly using video platforms and that works just fine, phones work too, and sometimes you can be seen in person as well.

If you're looking for a resource to help keep you productive at home while also helping you become a better parent, I've prepared a free gift just for you. It’s called Parenting Through Your Child's Second 12 Years. I know you’re thinking, "What the heck, 12 more years of parenting?" Adolescence neurologically, socially and emotionally, and often financially goes to around age 24. Yes, parenting your 20-year-olds is different than the teens. Download my gift and read and learn about the different stages of adolescence and critical strategies parents can use to avoid control battles and best support their adolescents’ quest for happy successful independence.

If you are a therapist who works in a behavioral health treatment program and would like to talk with me about improving outcomes in your program, come on over to my website and shoot me an email or give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk with you.

Please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.

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