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She’s Got ’Tude!

“Oh the attitude!” is a common lament I hear from parents. Although the teen years can be particularly discouraging in this area, any age is prone to this characteristic.

Though well meaning, the tendency from some experts is to say to ignore the attitude, asserting that “cutting them some emotional slack, you make them feel understood and loved.” This is not necessarily bad advice in context, but in and of itself it can be misleading at best, and imprint unhelpful beliefs at its worst.

Here’s why: how do you feel after you’ve been disrespectful or mean or sarcastic to someone? Chances are you ruminate, justify, or make up stories in your head as to how “they deserved it.” To put it another way, it creates a negative energy charge within you, which, make no mistake, is not without consequences.

Ever notice how many people feel unhappy, depressed, unfulfilled, guilt-ridden, etc.? Although modern psychology has pointed to expressing these feelings as helpful in order to transcend them (not a bad idea), if we express these feelings by taking it out on others, it’s counter-productive. We, by our very nature, want to be kind and loving towards others. When given the permission to express our darker side at the expense of someone else, it’s confusing, it’s painful, and it’s detrimental to personal growth.

So what’s a parent to do? 

For starters, setting boundaries around how you need to be treated will begin to produce the win-win that you want in your family life. Result: You are treated in ways that feel good to you, and others don’t have to fall into the trap of treating you poorly, then suffering through feeling awful about it.

The other part of this equation is helping to get the needs met of your obviously frustrated offspring. Though boundaries help keep things out, they also outline what is available within.

And certainly allowing venting is important.

At the beginning, however your child expresses herself, acknowledge to them that they indeed feel that way. (Example: I won’t let you go to Mary’s house and it totally frustrates you. It’s hard to understand my decisions sometimes, isn’t it?) If you can say this in a way that shows your child you really understand them, and avoid anything that sounds the slightest bit condescending, it can open up a more meaningful dialogue, or at the very least they will feel “heard”. It isn’t necessary to do much beyond this at that point, since there is negative charge in the air, and that’s the least effective time to set structures for future interactions.

When things have calmed down, let your child know that you understand their need to express themselves, and you’re going to work together to find the most helpful way to do just that.

Be clear that you will no longer respond to accusations or other non-respectful approaches. Assure your child that you’re on their side. Even if you’re the one setting the boundary, you can find a way to keep the relationship intact. I recall a time when my daughter wanted to go to a concert that her friend was attending. At the time, her father and I did not believe it was the best environment for her unsupervised. Although she was pretty bummed, and embarrassed to tell her friend she couldn’t go, she never felt we were unreasonable because we honored her feelings and expressed our reasons in a way that supported our love for her. Although it was frustrating, she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we could fully relate to her situation while doing what we felt what was best at the time. She was able to express her disappointment and anger without saying hurtful things to us that would later eat away at her. Was she happy at that moment? Heck no! But she was able to get past it very quickly and whether or not she ever got to the point where she agreed with our decision, she understood why we made that decision. Big distinction.

Of course, the best way to show your child how to treat you is to by treating them in a way that models that treatment. If you’re wishy-washy or fearful of her response, chances are you’re going to get a whole lot of attitude in return. If you’re overly commanding or demanding, it may be a quieter response that you get, but their feelings for you, hence herself, will not be very charitable.  When you can show compassion without getting pulled in emotionally, you can remain centered and loving which allows your child to accept the way they feel and find more appropriate ways to express that. You can become a partner in helping them get their needs met while honoring your needs at the same time. I’m telling you, it’s truly magic when this happens!

The goal is to help your child learn ways to allow those negative emotions some airtime, while keeping everyone’s dignity intact. And the above suggestions can create just the environment to support that goal. You can create an attitude of love and respect which ultimately will help your child have less of the negative emotions that block us from progressing, and more of the powerful good feeling ones that allow us to flow more easily in life.

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