Moving beyond parent-child temperament clashes

Moving Beyond Parent-Child Temperament Clashes

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast:

Moving Beyond Parent/Child Temperament Clashes

Episode 033 · Duration: 00:17:33

Are you struggling to parent your child or teenager with a very challenging temperament?

Karey of Hutchinson, Kansas, writes:

Moving Beyond Parent-Child Temperament ClashesOur daughter will be turning 16 in about 10 days and has a cell phone but not a smartphone. She’s been asking for one and I feel like it’s time. I want to do the teen phone contract with her, but here is the problem: she already has an ipod that was given to her by a friend last year and she uses it as much or more than her phone. However, we have been too lax with boundaries concerning it! We would have had more rules when she got it if we would have realized everything. So I feel like now, setting all the boundaries that I want to put in the teen phone contract, she is going to see as taking away the freedom that she currently has. She has it with her all the time including her room and she doesn’t want us to be connected with her on social media except for facebook. She is a good kid for the most part and I do not believe that she would do anything harmful and knows enough not to bully or send nudes. But I know that if we try to “change the rules” now, that she will claim we are not trusting her, as she thinks she can “take care of herself.” She is a very strong-willed child and we have had our go-arounds. Things have been going better lately though and we have started building a better relationship with her that I do not want to mess up. And I do have your book Ending the Parent teen control battle. Can you please give us some advice for this particular situation?

Establishing Temperament

Karey, you’re saying that you want to make a change in the standards and limits with your daughter, and because it’s a change in the status quo, she’s going to actively resist that change. Especially since she’s pretty strong-willed. So I want to respond to your question by focusing on challenging temperamental differences between parents and kids, and helping kids grow beyond their basic nature.

It sounds to me like your wonderful daughter has a pretty intense temperament. When she doesn’t get her way, she doesn’t go to the corner and sulk. She stands up and fights. Psychologist Ron Taffel describes four temperament types; I don’t love the names he gives each of these types, but they convey the ideas.

Here are his types:

  1. Reserved/clingy
  2. Intense/sensitive
  3. Easy/balanced
  4.  Aggressive/intense

I find the word aggressive is pretty loaded so I’d rather call it competitive/intense and clingy loses its meaning when we’re talking about adults so I’d rather call it, reserved/sensitive. For your daughter, Karey, we might think of her as intense/competitive. We know she’s intense and she fights to win, so that identification is a pretty good bet.

And then there is you and your husband. It sounds like neither of you is as intense as your daughter; perhaps you are reserved or maybe more balanced and easy-going. In either case, the dynamic between your temperament types and your daughter’s has led to her emotions taking the upper hand in her relationship with her parents. Certainly not to an absolute level, since things do not sound like they are out of control, but enough that you and your husband are cautious about setting limits with her. This has led to, at the very least, a moderate level Control Battle.

Let’s look at how this may have played out over the years:  Daughter is demanding and intense, parents are cautious and pick their fights since they don’t want to get into struggles. Daughter continues to use her emotions to get her way, maybe even bullying with her emotions to get her way. Parents stay positive and pick their fights, probably get into it with her, sometimes wondering what is wrong with their daughter.

On the positive side, what’s great about what you and your husband did was avoid major battles and kept basic standards and values in place. We know this because their daughter is doing pretty well and you have confidence that she isn’t engaging in out-of-control behavior or seriously at-risk behavior – that she has and uses some common sense.

Temperament & Personal Growth

Yet the one thing that is still a problem is that daughter still uses her emotions, her argumentativeness, to get her way. This is a pattern that has been in place since she was a little girl. Karey, this might not be exactly what went on in your family, but I’d be surprised if it isn’t close and it gives me an opportunity to talk about how innate temperament and environment shape personality.

Let’s back up and look at the temperament and personal growth; even though we have strong tendencies to behave within our temperamental nature, we don’t have to get stuck there. We don’t have to be prisoners of our innate temperaments. We can grow enough self-knowledge and skills to operate out of our comfort zone.

Even though we have strong tendencies to behave within our temperamental nature, we don’t have to get stuck there.Click To Tweet

For example, those individuals who are shy, still need to put themselves out there and take social risks. It is important for their social lives and it’s important for their work lives. They may never love cocktail parties, but they need to be able to put themselves out there. Similarly, those who are more extroverted, outgoing, and competitive need to learn to take a breath, reflect, give others a chance to express themselves, and give others a chance to get their way. We want to balance our temperamental inclination with opposite skills and behaviors.

The shy, reserved person needs to be able to advocate for themselves and engage with others. The easy-going person needs to be able to take a stand for what they want and believe. The sensitive/intense person has to be able to calm their emotions and see the bigger picture, be patient. And the competitive/intense person has to learn to make room for others and see that everything isn’t winning and losing. We can’t simply say, “that’s my nature,” and then write ourselves an excuse for not growing or ever getting out of our comfort zones. Think about it. I’m sure you know adults who are very much stuck in their basic temperament, and then you know adults who have found ways to balance their basic nature with wisdom and skills.

So in raising our kids, we want to understand and accept the fact of their temperament, and then we want a strategy to support them in building the skills to be able to operate out of the comfort zone of their temperament. In your case, Karey, that means that you’re going to want to help your daughter be aware of her nature, of her temperament and slow things down: listen better, talk and discuss without going to fight, resist, argue. We don’t want to shut her down and make her wrong for her temperament, we want to help her grow and develop social/emotional skills.

Working With Your Teen’s Temperament

Okay, so here we are. We have a moderate control battle and a 16-year-old who fights with her parents when she doesn’t get her way. What do we do?

I suggest that before you even talk about phones, social media, and contracts, you talk about communication in the family. That you want to be able to have conversations about rules and expectations without things devolving into an emotional fight and argument.

Karey, in general, I like to think of 16 as the beginning of young adulthood. For 13, 14, and 15-year-old kids, thoughts of the future are pretty abstract. They are more motivated by teen things and developing independence from their families. At 16, kids begin to realize that they are only 24 months from legal adulthood;  that their lives are going to change dramatically after only a couple more years and this is more motivating than simply independence from family.

So knowing this, you can appeal to your daughter’s pride as a 16-year-old young woman that you want to be able to have more adult-to-young-adult conversations with. Let her know that you know that she is older and more mature, and you want conversations to reflect the maturity that you know she’s capable of.

Since you’ve read Ending The Parent-Teen Control Battle, you know that the way out of a Control Battle is to:

  1. Be extremely positive and have and communicate faith in our kids, and
  2. To make privileges contingent on managing responsibilities and having a good attitude.

That’s exactly what I would do here, Karey.

Just as important, and maybe more important than the cell phone rules themselves, is your daughter’s willingness to have conversations with her parents that are at a young adult level – where she demonstrates listening skills and respect, and expresses her point of view without fighting or being argumentative.

Framing The Conversation

Here is what talking with your daughter might sound like. I’ll call your daughter Sara:

“Sara, now that you’re 16 and we’re starting a new school year, we want to take a look at things, where things are now and where things are going over the next couple of years.

First of all, we want you to know how proud of you we are. That you’re a fantastic young lady. You do well in so many areas including  _______. We appreciate that you have an empowered and strong voice and that you’re willing to express yourself strongly. It’s part of your basic nature and we appreciate and respect that.

Now that you’re moving into your young adult years, there are some emotional skills and communication skills that we want to see you learn and embrace. It’s time to demonstrate better listening and more mature and thoughtful discussion skills with us.

Specifically, we want to be able to talk with you without your tendency to blow up and get argumentative and emotional. It is your nature to feel things strongly and express things strongly, but now that you’re entering your young adult years, you need to do a better job of managing that, of balancing that with mature and thoughtful discussion skills.

To keep the privileges you now enjoy, and to gain new ones, such as a smartphone, we’re going to need you to actively work at and demonstrate these new skills. Remember Sara, over the next 24 months, you’re going to be preparing for legal adulthood. High school will be over and you’ll be going to the next phase of your life and using your judgment about how to spend your time, use your devices, and manage relationships entirely on your own. Right now, you need to work with us on making these decisions and by demonstrating maturity in your communication with us. That way, Dad and I will be able to see you as ready for greater levels of privilege and independence.”

Karey, I hope this makes sense. What this approach will do is take you and your husband out of tip-toeing around your daughter’s emotions. That’s a growth opportunity for you both to move beyond the limits of your basic temperaments or basic natures, and it gives your daughter guidance and direction to grow beyond the limits of her temperament or basic nature.

A Challenge For Parents

Parents, here’s my challenge to all of us: let’s take a hard look at our own temperament type and see how it serves us and limits us, and let’s look at our children, teens, and young adults and see how their temperament serves and limits them as well. Let this knowledge inform our parenting strategies. In what ways do I need to stretch to parent out of my comfort zone and give my kid what they need? In what ways do I need to help my child, teen, or young adult grow to take advantage of their inherent temperament, and not be limited by it? We all have our basic natures, but we don’t want to be imprisoned by them. We need self-awareness and skills that take us out of our comfort zones.

We all have our basic natures, but we don’t want to be imprisoned by them.Click To Tweet

Thanks for tuning in today, listeners, and thanks to Karey from Hutchinson, Kansas, for her stimulating question. Please feel free to visit my website at and sign up for my weekly newsletter. There’s plenty of helpful stuff on the site right now, including my recently released TEDx Talk.

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

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