Proactive Parenting: See It Their Way
Dear Dr T.,
My fourteen-year-old wears me down. She loves to complain, and I just can’t get through to her. So we are both unhappy and frustrated: She is because I “don’t understand her,” and I am because she just won’t stop.
Since she was a little girl, she has been a complainer and a hoarder of injuries – all committed by me. Her mantra is “It’s not fair!” – not fair that she has to help, not fair that she has to clean up after her siblings, not fair that the younger kids take up so much of my attention that there is nothing left for her.
But, here’s the truth as I see it. She barely helps and certainly gets the lion’s share of attention. Somehow, she just cannot see clearly when it comes to anything about herself.
I have tried reason. I have given examples that contradict her view – no go. Basically, she has this perception that nothing is fair to her at home and will not budge. She is making herself miserable by her unreasonable ideas and nothing I say helps.
How do I get her to see reality? If she could wake up and see things as they really are, we would do so much better together – and she would be so much happier.
So, is the glass half-empty or half-full?
The truth is that our perception is our reality. We all see things through our own unique lens – and then operate as if they are facts. Your daughter has her own narrative of the home. Regardless of the truth or accuracy of her perception, that’s how she sees it. And, it is frustrating to her when you don’t see it the same way.
Basically, it’s all about perception. Consider the teen (or adult) who feels she is overweight. She is miserable, irritable, and likely to seclude herself at home. This very same teen who then buys some flattering outfits and is declared by her friends to look “so skinny” – well, she feels on top of the world and loves going out and socializing.
For your daughter, the glass is half-empty. Most likely, nothing you say will make a difference. As a wise person once said, “If words would have helped, they would have helped a long time ago.” It’s time to try a different way.
The first thing to consider when a child, spouse, or family member tells us something we don’t want to hear is that maybe it’s true. It is hard to see ourselves as others see us. Though we may feel that our kids’ complaints are totally unjustified, it is always wise to think again. It’s also a good idea to bring a spouse or close relative/friend into the picture and get another view of the situation.
But, one thing is for sure. You cannot change your daughter’s view by arguing, cajoling, proving, or giving examples. To change this dance, you must change the tune. And, much as you may feel it is up to your daughter to make the first move, the reality is that as the adult you probably will have to take the lead.
By far the best strategy is to show your daughter that you are on her side. Though this is a slow process made up of many small steps, her ultimate belief that you are out for her good is what will most likely turn her around.
How can you demonstrate to your daughter that you are on her side? Here are some of the ideas that you might find useful.
- Listen, really listen, and validate her complaints. Don’t try to talk her out of them; rather, let her know that you believe that she truly sees things this way. Her feelings exist and they are real for her. Remember, you are not the opposing council in a courtroom ready to pounce on any small error. You are on her side.
- Try to understand what she wants. Let her know that you want for her what she wants. You want her to be happy. Now, it may not be possible to give her what she wants, but make sure she feels that you wish you could. There is little to be gained by disputing her version of things.
- Give her some control. Offer her some say in how things are done – especially in reference to her. Show her that you are not there to force her, but rather support her choices. Go for co-operation and working things out, not control.
- Be a “yes” parent. Of course, we all have to say “no” sometimes, but if you don’t have to say “no,” give a gracious “yes.”
- Anticipate her wants and needs. Where and when possible, fill them with a smile. The trick is to give freely – before she asks. We all know that while asking and getting is feels good, getting without even having to ask feels great.
Showing your daughter that you are on her side is an effort. Some people would even argue that it is unfair – why should the parent be forced to accommodate the child?
But, as adults we want to take the long view. We have a goal: to maintain a good relationship with our child. And, we have a choice: to continue to battle and see how that turns out, or to decide to stretch ourselves to reach our goal. The trick is to view our behavior not as a defeat, but rather as our carefully considered choice, a choice to improve our connection to our children by showing them we are on their side.
The Book Nook: The Strength Switch by Lea Waters talks about the need for parents to overcome their negativity bias. The author writes about the need to focus on our children’s strengths, rather than correcting their weaknesses. This new science of strength-based parenting can help our children and teens flourish and thrive.
Sara Teichman, Psy D. is a psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles and Clinical Director of ETTA, LA’s largest Jewish agency for adults with special needs. To submit a question or comment, email DrT@jewishhomela.com.