It’s seriously hard to Michelle Obama it in and go high when your kid goes low, or is that just me? Nothing pushes my buttons quite like an ungrateful, privileged kid trying to tell me how the world works. Worse, an ungrateful, privileged kid who we have raised to be anything but ungrateful and privileged. Sigh.
Yet, here we are. The tween and teen years seem to bring out the self-righteous selfishness in everyone. It’s quite perplexing to see your otherwise sweet-natured kid suddenly become possessed by the devil. There’s an unhinged moment in every older kid’s day, each and every day, when they are basically certifiable.
Like the whole of parenting, we get better at managing this with practise. We can’t expect to be a calm genius at managing our children’s horrible adolescent behaviour just because we went down that road with a toddler / preschooler / young kid. Parenting is the gift that keeps on giving, after all. It will take some time to find your groove, but here are some ways to go high when they go low.
How to go high when your kid goes low
1. Don’t give them what they want
When your kid is ranting a centimetre from your face, it is way too easy to hit crazed-parenting mode way too early. They are being rude, aggressive, and at that distance you can tell they haven’t brushed their teeth properly in weeks, which makes you madder than a cut snake.
They are looking for a fight and they are expecting you to bring it. So, don’t bring it.
Simply say, in as calm and gentle a voice as you can, “We will talk about this when you have calmed down,” then leave the room. They will follow you, of course. Adolescents are not easy to shake, but you’ll get there. Go somewhere where you can firmly shut and lock the door.
No, you are not ignoring your kid. Yes, you are ignoring their behaviour. Point this out to them from behind the locked door.
This might help too: A quick guide to managing tantrums in older kids
2. Remind them you are human
Whenever my kids start abusing me in that special way that kids save just for their parents, I like to remind them that I’m just another person.
“Would you talk to your teacher in this way?”
“Would you talk to your friend like this?”
The answer is, we hope, no. They wouldn’t, so they shouldn’t. Just say: “How about you say that again in a tone that you would use with your school principal?”
3. Zoom out
The “flare ups” we experience with our kids are just that: little bushfires that are intense where we are, but non-existent everywhere else.
That’s why it pays to remind yourself to “zoom out” and see the bigger picture.
Why is your child behaving like this? What else is happening in their life right now? What can you do to help?
These are questions we should be asking our kids, if not in the moment (because god knows, you will just be “meddling” in the moment), but soon after. Parent the bigger picture.
4. Ask and receive
We have a wonderful resource at our disposal when parenting older kids – the kids themselves.
While they may not yet have the tools of perspective and reflection at their own disposal, we can help them get there by asking questions, listening and guiding.
The most useful sentence we can utter as parents is simply, “Talk to me.”
Tell me what’s wrong, let’s work through this together, let me help you figure things out.
5. Don’t be the definition of insanity
There’s no avoiding the feeling of deja vu when parenting, but if you find yourself having the exact same conversation over and over again without pause, you might want to check yourself. Clearly, your strategy – whatever it may be – isn’t working.
More on this here: 5 techniques I’m using to stop criticising my kids
We do need to repeat many life principles before they get it, but months and months (let alone years) of repetition when your kid is 7+ should not be necessary. So, try a different approach.
The best way to do this is to ask your kid what they suggest.
How do you go high when your kid goes low?