For years parenting experts have preached the wisdom of talking to your preschooler, talking to your kid, talking to your teen …talking, talking, talking. In general, that is sound advice, unless you’re still talking when you should be, dare I say it, acting like a parent and giving orders.
Some parents believe in talking to a drunk teenager, or talking to a rebellious middle-schooler or explaining to a screaming four-year old why she shouldn’t be screaming because mommy can’t afford a new toy. This is where parents tend get everything muddled up.
When conversation counts
Conversation throughout every stage of childhood is vital. It’s important to know what your kids are thinking, what their friends are doing, what’s going on at school. It’s just as important your child knows what you’re thinking, what your expectations of them are, what your values are.
Wise parents look for openings to talk to their kids about sex, about drugs, about drinking and the dangers of reckless living. They also talk about the future. What do their kids want to be? What are their interests? The healthiest parent-child discussions can even get into broken hearts, mean friends, and how to make amends to a friend or adult. These conversations have to be authentic and, the fact is, they have to be ongoing. They have to be part of the family’s DNA.
When talking isn’t enough
The importance of talking to your child cannot be overstated. But neither can the importance of acting like a parent. Our kids need us to be fearless when they so desperately need our guidance. We need to tell them what we expect out of them and call them out when they don’t meet our expectations. We don’t rationalize with a screaming six-year-old.
We don’t try to “understand” a rebellious middle-schooler, we demand courtesy and respect and adherence to rules. Yes, we still talk to them, but it’s always important to remember that we’re the parent and they are the children. With teens, it’s always about ‘house rules’. Our house, our rules. Drinking, drugs, missing curfew, inappropriate dressing, cursing – these are issues met fast and furious. Loss of cell phones, computer time, cars, even loss of friends should be on the table and the fearless parent doesn’t wait a second to pull out these cards.
When my kids were teens I scotch-taped an ad from a military school to the refrigerator. It showed a bunch of thirteen to fifteen-year-olds standing in uniform at attention. The first time my oldest son looked at it, he gasped out loud. “What is this?” he exclaimed.
“It’s the end of my patience,” I replied. He knew I was serious. We had very few issues to deal with afterward.
10 tips for when to talk and when to act
1. Talk to your kids at breakfast and dinner. Talk to them instead of watching TV.
2. Talk to them about sex, and drugs and alcohol when they’re young: about your expectations, morals and values.
3. Talk to them about the pressures all teens face to fit it.
4.Talk to them about any religious beliefs your family has and how to live and practice those beliefs.
5. Talk to them when they walk into your bedroom late at night and all you want is to go to sleep.
6. Always be available to talk and be wiling to start difficult conversations.
7. Establish firm rules of behavior about curfews, studying hours, drugs, alcohol and respect for the family.
8. Be willing to negotiate some rules, but not after they are broken.
9. Establish consequences.
10. Act when behavior is unacceptable.
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Harry H Harrison Jr. is a NYTIMES best selling parenting author, including the recent Fearless Parenting: Raising a Child to Face the Adult World, with over 3.5 million books in print. He has been interviewed on over 25 television programs, and featured in over 75 local and national radio stations including NPR. His books are available in over thirty-five countries throughout Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Norway, South America, China, Saudi Arabia and in the Far East. For more information visit www.fearlessparenting.com.