I work with families who have troublesome teenagers. The teen’s behaviours usually include things like truanting and causing bother in school when they are there, offending in the community, being verbally abusive to their parents/carers, trashing their houses and usually drinking alcohol or taking substances with their negative peers. My job is to help the families change their anti-social teens behaviour often by changing their own behaviour. This is usually a huge stumbling block because carers seldom believe they need to change, after all they’ve been bringing up kids for years and have never had this trouble before.
So anyway, we’ve had our 2½ year old granddaughter, Teeny Mini-Me, staying with us for the last 5 days. She’s been no trouble at all but like most toddlers is always on the edge of a tantrum, is demanding and needs to be constantly supervised because she is into everything. Are you starting to see the similarities to teenagers?
I did but only after getting home from a particularly difficult day at work. Although I was shattered when I spoke to Teeny Mini-Me I noticed I used a soft tone, I gave her time and listened intently to how her day had been. To be honest, I didn’t understand everything she said but I appeared interested and replied with Really? Wow! You’ve had a busy day. She was happy with this and then wandered off to finish trying to force fir cones into her toy car. When I was hanging out the washing I asked for her help but after she got bored with handing me pegs I didn’t complain that she was no longer helping but thanked her for what she had already done. When she wanted to spend time with me I put down my phone and played with her. After all, that funny meme on Facebook is still going to be there in half an hour. When she did something new or good we clapped and shouted hurrah. If there was anything she couldn’t do herself either me or OH would help her. We didn’t assume she could do it herself. We watched her constantly from a distance to make sure she was safe but at the same time giving her the freedom to learn for herself. Of course there were times when she wasn’t getting her own way and she’d start to moan and get stroppy or start to cry but we distracted her with other interesting things she could do. Obviously we used incentives to get her to finish her food – the usual finish your chicken and you’ll get a yoghurt; help me wash the dishes and then we’ll go to the park.
All of these responses were natural and not put on at all. It’s what you do as a parent of a toddler or in my case, a granny. It was all the stuff I had been telling my families to do that day at work.
Suddenly it dawned on me. What I needed was for my families to treat their teens like toddlers. The mums, dads, grannies, granddads, aunties, uncles and other carers need to go back and do what they used to do 12 years ago. Back when it felt like the kids were so much easier to deal with. When you think about it, stroppy teens need the same kind of attention that toddlers need. They need spoken to calmly, listened to intently, spent time with, praised and appreciated, given choices and constantly supervised.
However, can you actually imagine treating your teen like a toddler? Chances are they’d think you were taking the piss, feel patronised and then revert to form, swear, stomp off and slam some doors – leaving you feeling like you’re the bad one. If you speak to anyone like a child they will act like a child, which obviously is fine with toddlers but with a teen you want them to act like adults. And don’t tell me you don’t because you’re constantly telling them to grow up! No, what you have to do is treat them like toddlers but speak to them like adults. So be consistent, no sarcasm, no shouting, answer them when they ask a question and don’t tell them 2 minutes when you really mean half an hour.
So I’ve got a new meme for Facebook. It’s going to be my new mantra. I’m going to patent it and make posters and fridge magnets.
Stroppy Teenagers: Treat them like toddlers, speak to them like adults.