Is Better Good Enough?


The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 169 · Duration: 00:18:19

Is Better Good Enough?

What do you do when you’ve taken some good parenting steps and your previously violent 13-year-old daughter is back in control? Is that enough, or is there more to do?

Today we’re hearing from Alice who writes:

We’ve used the tools from your book and we’ve just taken the course and we’ve gotten some good results. We’re raising our 13 year old granddaughter and she’s always been a handful with ADHD and an oppositional attitude. She can be demanding and quite hostile when she doesn’t get what she wants. She would swear at us, break things, and even throw things at us. She’s a good athlete which is where she succeeds and she’s very smart so if she would apply herself, she’d do quite well. We know she’s been through a lot and I won’t use your time here, but her parents had too many problems to raise children.

Her 11 year old sister, also with us is quite the opposite; quiet, wants to please, does her responsibilities and cooperates most of the time. She’s not perfect, but easier to manage that’s for sure. She saw less of the fighting and violence in the family than her older sister did.

We realized that we had gotten into a major Control Battle with our 13 yr old and we’re working to stop that. We had the talk and things are better. She isn’t swearing, throwing or breaking things which is great. She’s stopped taking her sister’s things and raging at her for the most part and is playing with her a bit. It still seems that she expects the world to revolve around her. When we don’t cook exactly what she wants, while not violent, her attitude is still demanding and self-centered. Where she used to terrorize her sister, she’ll still make fun of her sister for any mistake or even what she wears. When we ask her do to things, she almost automatically says “no” but if we don’t fight with her about it, half the time she’ll do it after a few minutes. In short, the worst behaviors have stopped but life with her is still hard on all three of us. Do we just live with this or is there more we can do?

Thanks for your question, Alice. First of all, congratulations on the great work you’ve done and what you’ve achieved. Your achievements are far greater than you know. Your challenging granddaughter is learning to apply emotional self-management skills. Your younger granddaughter is safer and no longer being traumatized. She has learned that you as her guardians can and will protect her and that is vital to her sense of trust in the world. And not least of all you, the parents here, are less traumatized and emotionally burned out. Absolutely terrific!! I’m proud of you.

Privileges, Maturity, and Responsibility

Now to your question: Yes, there is more that you can do and need to do. There needs to be accountability to parental authority, the benevolent parental authority of course, but accountability is vital. And with your challenging granddaughter, there needs to be ongoing maturation and growth.

Generally speaking, without a whole lot of explicit discussion about the need to grow and be more responsible, kids without special needs or trauma will grow and become more responsible. As they mature, there will be new privileges and opportunities that come their way. Usually, there will be some talk about what the new privilege entails, but not a huge deal about the need to earn it. For instance, let’s say we’re post-pandemic and your generally cooperative responsible 13-year-old wants to meet her friends downtown, a place they can get in trouble, be taken advantage of, etc. You have a discussion of where she and her friends can go, some of the issues to avoid, what the transportation will be, etc. It all goes well and now she is building a new area of independence and the privileges to engage it.

But sometimes, this process of evolving maturity and independence is less smooth. For whatever reason, a teenager, even after some good Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle work, still wants to test the limits of acceptable behavior. This is particularly true when, as in your case Alice, a kid’s behavior has been so destructive, and the Control Battle extremely intense.

Generally speaking, without a whole lot of explicit discussion about the need to grow and be more responsible, kids without special needs or trauma will grow and become more responsible. But sometimes, this process is less smooth.Click To Tweet

How To Pave A Healthy Path Forward

In these situations, there are two reasons, that things might not simply hit a healthy path forward free from chronic problems and destructive behaviors.

One is that the youth is still holding onto a certain amount of power, often fearful that if they trust their parents and don’t test limits, that they’ll lose their identity and not know how to relate in a more authentic way. By still being intentionally difficult, they haven’t completely lost, they still see things in a win-lose paradigm.

The other reason is that they lack the social, emotional, neurological maturity to understand healthy age-appropriate behavior. This could be a result of early trauma or neglect, or a developmental syndrome of some kind.

There could be a combination of both of these issues. In either case, the response would be the same; what’s needed is a high level of support, recognition, positive engagement, and a redoing of The Talk, where the bar gets raised. The bar should be raised in a way that acknowledges that they’ve accomplished a lot and are demonstrating that they’re ready for the next step.

Here’s how it might go with your challenging 13-year-old, and I’ll call her Tracy.

Let’s say Tracy wants to get access to her favorite social media back after it and many other privileges were revoked. Her phone has been returned for certain hours of the day, but not all her apps, which were not being used properly. She’s complaining that that’s how her friends are communicating and she’s being left out. You’ve arranged a time for discussion and you’re all sitting together.

Here’s an example of how you might talk with her and I’ll call you Mom and Dad and her Tracy.

Mom: Tracy, we want you to know how proud we are of you. You’re such a terrific kid and so great to be around now.
Dad: You’ve definitely demonstrated your ability to manage your emotions and behaviors and I hope you are proud of yourself for that. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but you put your mind to it and you did it. Everything feels so much more enjoyable in the family now and it’s so much more enjoyable to hang out with you.
Tracy: Then why can’t I have my TikTok back?
Mom: We want you to have it back. And while you have stopped all the violence, there are still some things that tell us you might not be ready.
Tracy: Like what?
Mom: There are still a lot of times that you say hurtful things.
Dad: Yes, there are still things that you say and do that tell us that you just want to get your way, and don’t care about anybody else.
Tracy: That’s not fair. Everybody in this family gets their way except me. Suzy gets anything she wants, and you guys act like you want me to be your slave. I’m the one that nobody cares about. I’m the one that’s never good enough.
Mom: That’s a terrible way to feel Tracy and I’m glad you’re telling us how you feel. That might explain why you still say hurtful things to your sister and complain so loudly when you don’t like what I’ve cooked.
Tracy: Everyone gets what they want but me in this family.
Dad: Yes, Tracy, we understand that’s how you see it. We see it very, very differently. And if you want, I’ll explain how we see it and we can discuss what to do about this dilemma.
Mom: Because, we do want you to feel completely supported and like things are fair, but you’ll need to listen.
Tracy: Okay what?
Dad: From our point of view, Mom cooks things you like most often because we don’t want to have a fight about eating. Suzy is pretty easy to please so Mom favors your choices more. And you still make hurtful comments to Suzy, you make fun of her a lot when she doesn’t do anything to you. When we play a board game, we let you choose it because that’s the only way you’ll play.
Mom: I don’t ask you to do a lot of things because I’m almost always going to be told “no”.
Tracy: I know, but I do it anyway.
Mom: Often you do, but sometimes you don’t. I’m not sure why you feel you have to say “no” all the time. It makes me feel that you think cooperation is a bad word and that cooperating is a bad thing.
Dad: Which is why if we give you your social media apps back, we can’t be sure you will cooperate with the rules around it.
Tracy: How will you know if I don’t get a chance to prove it?
Dad: But you can prove it, Tracy. You can prove it by cooperating when we ask you to do something. By treating your sister with kindness and helping her feel good about herself instead of making fun of her. By giving us your phone without a fight when we tell you it’s time to put it away.
Mom: If you can put effort into all these little ways that add up, and show us you are committed and ready to cooperate, not be perfect but do your best, that will be all the proof we need, and then, your apps will come back because we’ll be able to trust you with them.
Dad: Right, you don’t need to be perfect, but when we point out something that needs a change or an apology, rather than an argument, if we get a cooperative response, then you’ll help us say “yes” to the things you want.

Alice, do you get the idea here? No put-downs; only validation and empathy for your daughter’s feelings, helping her know she can do better and that you want her to succeed.

Now when she does something or says something hurtful, particularly to her sister, warmly invite her to communicate in a more supportive way. For instance, she says, “Do you live in those sweats? They’re disgusting.” You might say, “But they’re perfect for doing her art project in. Tracy, please offer something on the supportive side to Suzy. You’re important to her and your words can help her a lot.”

See nothing critical here. Alice, clearly, you’re aware that your granddaughter suffered trauma early on and by staying positive with her, and teaching her that she matters and matters to others, that’s a vital part of her healing. I hope she’s getting professional help with her issues as well.

Staying positive and teaching your teen that they matter and matter to others is a vital part of their healing from trauma.Click To Tweet

So parents and folks who work with parents, getting a child or teen to change a destructive behavior are certainly good, but it may not be good enough. What is really needed when destructive behaviors are evident is a change in the structure or dynamics of the family and ultimately, an internal restructuring of the child or teenager; restructuring from the fight for everything you want, to cooperate and work for what you want.

Once a child or teenager is working within this model, they will continually learn and grow. Until then, parents will need to provide explicit expectations, standards, and goals all while maintaining a safe, supportive, and even healing, family environment.

A special thanks to Alice for your question and once again, great work. You’re on it!!

If you'd like to take advantage of my course, Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle, that Alice found beneficial in helping her granddaughter, enroll today. My self-led course is a great resource for ending parental burnout and creating an empowered teen.

If you're looking for another 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, 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.

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

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