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Hurt, Anger, and Fear. Feeling these emotions isn’t the problem. And if they hit you because of life stressors or pressure, then by all means, let your kids see you show them– within careful limits and in healthy ways. The problems come when we show hurt, anger, or fear in reaction to our teens’ behaviors. That will do more damage than you realize.
Kids are constantly watching for your responses.
Many defiant kids are already convinced that they are the “black sheep,” the “evil kid,” the “screw-up,” etc., especially if they have been frequently & recently called out for their behaviors. So when we show them hurt, anger, & fear in reaction to what they say or do, it’s like we reinforce these bad behaviors and convince them that they truly are “the bad kid.” But we don’t really MEAN to send that message–what we want them to know is that the BEHAVIOR is the problem.
In addition, when we show kids anger or fear, we are essentially giving them the remote control in the situation because now they know they can push our buttons. Remember–whoever is least emotionally fired-up in an agreement always holds the most power.
Teens already feel somewhat anxious and insecure because they are trying to figure themselves out and find their identity. They don’t know that and they rarely express that, but it’s true. So gaining control over you, even if it means getting you ANGRY and then getting themselves in trouble, will (ironically) be somewhat comforting to them. Why? Because then they know what to expect and how to predict what will happen next. This gives them a sense of life being “under control.” For a lot of teens, even punishment is better than having to wonder anxiously about things.
1. If you feel angry at your teen, show it in WORDS, not in tone or volume. Instead of yelling in anger, you could calmly say something like, “I’m very disappointed in what you did today. Your behavior was dangerous, and I get worried for your safety. That’s not okay.”
2. If you feel hurt, say it CALMLY, like a message that Danny Tanner would say at the end of a Full House episode. Let the basic words of your disappointment do the impact, not your yelling, sobbing, or descriptions of being “shattered with grief” or shock or “utter disgust.”
3. Don’t let your teen see that they have rocked your boat!
4. Hold your ground, keep your limits, express your frustrations and disappointments, but do it calmly and matter-of-factly. Say something calmly like, “You behaved poorly today, and you knew better. I’m disappointed that you chose to do things this way. Unfortunately, A+B=C, and consequences always come after we choose things. I feel bad for you that you will have to deal with this consequence, but you knew what would happen.”
If we do this consistently, our kids actually will see us as allies and reliable “safe harbors” for whatever they need to tell us in the future, even when they know we may disagree with their behaviors in the future.