It’s no secret that middle school and high school students are dealing with identity issues. They want to know who they are, why they matter and where they fit in. The trouble is that while their natural self-awareness is heightened, comments that are intended for discipline and correction are easily interpreted as personal character attacks.
Maybe this sounds familiar? You are frustrated because your son brought home a progress report showing multiple homework zeros. You try to correct him, but he gets defensive and starts telling you that he’s sorry he’s not smart enough for you or sorry you think he’s such a worthless son. Maybe nothing so dramatic has happened in your house, but that doesn’t mean the potential isn’t there—it may be just under the surface.
Discipline and correction are an important part of parenting, and they sometimes seem almost impossible with a teenage son or daughter. But don’t give up. Your child needs you to be involved and alert to what is happening in his or her life, and actively correcting behaviors that could lead your child to places he or she doesn’t want to be. However, the language you use when correcting him or her can make a big difference.
Because we are human, we are wired to react to our children out of frustration when we see them making choices that are inconsiderate, lacking in self-control or potentially self-destructive. When we respond this way, we often make “you are” statements: You are so lazy. You are so selfish. Or we will make broad sweeping “you never” and “you always” statements. What we really intend as correction ends up sounding a lot more like an attack on the value and worth of our child.
Understand, we all do it. It’s a natural reaction to the frustration and hurt we feel as we navigate the tumultuous waters of adolescence with them. But there are better words for us to choose.
This month, try to be especially alert to the words that you use when correcting your son or daughter. You may need to allow yourself time to step back from a particular situation before you enter into a correctional conversation. That’s okay. You can let your child know you are going to discuss it after dinner, or tomorrow when you come to pick them up from school. Then when you do have the conversation, try to use specific language to address the behavior that you want to correct. You can think of it as using “You are doing” statements. Words that let them know that while what they have chosen to do or say in this particular instance is not okay, that doesn’t affect who they are, how you love them and whether you believe the best about them.
When you are intentional about the words you use when you discipline, you can have a positive impact on your son or daughter’s self-image and help them make wiser choices.
To see the rest of this month’s Parent Cue, click here.