Wise Minded Parenting Mastering the Seven Essentials for Raising Successful Tweens and Teens
By Laura S Kastner
Parent Map Copyright © 2013 Laura S Kastner
All right reserved. ISBN: 9780983012856
Scene: It’s dinnertime on a school night, and just as you put food on the table, your teenager hits you with a request.
Kate: I need to go to Jen’s after dinner. Can you take me?
Mom: Wait—I thought you had a huge math test tomorrow. You need to stay home and study.
Kate: Mom. I’m ready for the test. Jen’s upset. She needs me.
Mom: I’m sorry about Jen, but studying comes first. You’re staying home. And you know we have a no-socializing rule on school nights anyway.
Kate: You never liked Jen! I hate your stupid rules! You are such a mean mom!
Mom: Mean? After all I do for you? I’m just trying to keep you from failing math.
Kate: I’ll fail it anyway. You’re ruining my life.
Sound extreme? Maybe not, if you’ve got a full-blown teenager living in your house. Communication breakdowns like this one are all too common during the late tween and early teen years, and they can be baffling, frustrating, and even frighteningly explosive at times. Where did this exchange take a wrong turn? How did this mother and daughter, who actually both want the same things—good math scores and a healthy social life—end up so at odds? What strategy could the wise-minded parent employ to reach a more satisfying outcome?
If you live with an older tween or teen, you’ve probably already noticed: Your darling child is morphing into something new—something at times strange and wonderful, but also sullen, self-absorbed, and occasionally, downright rude. If your child is still in their pre-teen or tween years (usually ranging from nine to fourteen years of age), know that it’s probably coming, if it hasn’t already arrived. Some days will be fine; on others, you may wonder if you even like each other anymore. At those times, it might be hard to imagine how you’ll ever again feel a connection to this sulking ball of hormones and attitude. Is all of this frequent conflict—and your mounting frustration with your child’s behavior—doing permanent damage to your relationship? How can you keep communication flowing and your once loving connection strong through the turbulent teen years? And does it really matter to your child’s future success if you don’t?
Why Attachment MattersMaintaining a warm, loving bond with your child certainly does matter, and not just because those glimmers of fond connection provide welcome relief during stormy times. A secure attachment is crucial to your child’s future success in all kinds of measurable ways. Tweens and teens who share a strong mutual bond with their parents are better adjusted socially, get better grades, are less likely to use alcohol and drugs . . . the list goes on, and the research backs it up (Cassidy & Shaver, 2008). Secure
Chapter 1 continued:
Wise-Minded Parenting 101 - For help handling the tough and emotionally-laden times with teens, parents can utilize some of the concepts and techniques of an evidence-based treatment approach called “Dialectical Behavior Therapy” (DBT). Developed by University of Washington psychology researcher Marsha M. Linehan, DBT combines common cognitive-behavioral techniques for emotional regulation with elements drawn from Buddhist traditions of acceptance, tolerance, and mindfulness. While Linehan developed DBT in research with adults, many individuals have translated its principles for working with children, especially for those who experience intense emotions (Harvey & Penzo, 2009).
The word “dialectical” refers to the crucial process by which we examine opposing truths in an effort to reach a deep understanding of a principle, a feeling, or a dynamic. For instance, we love our family members, but they often frustrate us, make us mad, and leave us feeling awful. To understand the truth of intimacy, we need to examine the ways in which we love, cherish, and adore our families, even as we can feel furious, befuddled, or trapped. Remember the ancient philosophers Socrates and Plato? Dialectics is what they were doing in all those amazing dialogues—and what happens in the best classrooms and dinner conversations! We want our kids to become critical thinkers, and this is one of the ways it can be developed (more on the “Socratic Method” in chapter 4).
One of the most important dialectical principles to understand and embrace is the “acceptance/change” principle: In order for you to help your children change, you must first accept them unconditionally. Think how often we react to our child (in mind, mood, or words) with “I love you, but….” Even though children need to mature, learn new behaviors, and change old ones, they first need to feel they are accepted. Change evolves from the bedrock of acceptance.
SLUG: WISE-MINDED MANTRA
In order to help my children change, I must first accept them unconditionally.
Here are some important DBT principles that can help parents learn to practice acceptance:
- Your child is doing the best he can at this moment in time. Parents who accept this truth can move the child along toward change in the future.
- Your child needs to do better, try harder, and be more motivated to change…but that will result from your skillful handling of his extreme emotions and behavior.
- Your child wants to make things better. Children naturally seek approval from their parents and are happier when they master challenges.
- Your child must learn new behaviors and take responsibility for coping in difficult situations. And she will, as she matures and you skillfully work with her.
- Family members should take things in a well-meaning way, and not assume the worst Negative reactivity is normal, but it’s not usually helpful.
- There is no absolute truth. Think about how often you argue over the truth with your child. He may say, “You never let me do anything.” Or maybe, “You always take my brother’s side.” You have a choice: You can argue—and have a power struggle—or avoid an argument and say nothing. Even better would be saying something that validates his intense feelings and opinions right now. Arguing over the truth usually exacerbates conflicts when people are extremely emotionally upset.
The “wise mind” is a concept Linehan developed to emphasize the effectiveness of combining thinking processes (the “reason mind”) with emotional regulation (the “emotion mind”) to produce intuitive, effective ways of handling distressing situations. To be wise-minded, you harness the quiet empathy that comes with a deep understanding and acceptance of emotions, both yours and your child’s, and then integrate that empathy with reason for a balanced response.
This dynamic combination allows parents to come up with wise, discerning, and--best of all--effective strategies for handling any given conflict or situation with their child.
The wise-minded parent moves beyond reason mind, which processes and responds to the mere facts of a situation.
For example, the facts of the scenario at the beginning of the chapter are: Kate has a math test. The parents have a no-socializing rule for school nights. Kate is being extremely rude. If she goes to Jen’s, she won’t study as much. The mother also knows, or should know, that kids feel very intensely about their friends at this age. Basing her response on the facts alone—accurate though they are—discounts how this Kate feels, hinders empathy, and significantly reduces Mom’s effectiveness as a parent. Continues...
Excerpted from Wise Minded Parenting by Laura S Kastner Copyright © 2013 by Laura S Kastner. Excerpted by permission.
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