If you're a softie with your kids (but wish you weren't), it's not too late to get an authoritative backbone. Here's how.
1. Admit Your Mistakes
The first step is acknowledging your part in the problem, says behavior specialist Betsy Brown Braun, author of You're Not the Boss of Me: Brat-Proofing Your 4- to 12-Year-Old Child - to both yourself and to your children. Be honest about the fact that you've let them dodge chores or mouth off in the past. "Don't turn it into a finger-wagging session," she says. "It's not about blame; it's about you saying, 'I've allowed you to talk to me that way or not help with the dishes for years, but now that's over.' You're giving kids a heads-up and letting them know what changes are ahead."
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Where you have "the talk" makes a difference, says Michael J. Bradley, Ed.D., author of When Things Get Crazy With Your Teen. "To signal that a sea change is under way, break it to them in a different venue," says Bradley. "It's human nature to act the same old way in the same old places." (Harping about new video game rules while your kid is playing Wii, for instance, will have zero effect.) Bradley's favorite spot for any one-on-one with a tween or teen: a café - it's away from home, and kids feel grown-up and comfortable.
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2. Come Up With a Plan
Begin any change with a detailed plan, says Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., author of Freeing Your Child From Negative Thinking. "If bedtime is 9:30 P.M., map out what needs to happen beforehand to get there," she says. Approach it like a group project at school - it's a concept kids immediately get. "You might say, 'Clearly, we're having a problem sticking with a healthy bedtime. Let's figure out together what each of us can do to make this work. What do you think is workable?' " Chansky suggests. Counterintuitive as it sounds, you may need to dial down the authority level here; again, if tweens feel like their voice counts, they're more likely to cooperate.
3. Stop Yelling
Communicate in writing, says Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions - kids are so comfortable texting, IM-ing, and e-mailing that they often respond better to written requests (even old-fashioned Post-it notes work). Also, when things are written down, you take your emotions out of the picture, and there's no room for misunderstanding. "Believe it or not, tweens and teens are highly sensitive to sarcasm," says Borba. "Also, they frequently misinterpret facial expressions." If you're screaming, they'll only remember the anger, not the point you were trying to make.
4.Give Kids a Carrot
In many ways, early adolescence is an ideal time for discipline do-overs, says Bradley, "since at this age, kids are looking for autonomy." Tap into that desire for independence by offering incentives they truly want - like spending money. Explain that kids can earn cash (or privileges, if you're dead set against paying them) by getting chores done within the agreed-upon time. That's it - no threats. "You get yourself out of the equation. They decide if they're going to do it," Bradley says.
5. Take Small Steps
Of course, saying you'll do something and actually doing it are two different things. Don't tackle too much too soon, says Borba - otherwise you'll be overwhelmed. "Use the foot-in-the-door technique," she recommends. "For instance, start with one chore instead of five. Once you've had success, you add more." Also, make sure the first step is a super-easy one.
These may be teeny changes, but the smallest tweaks to your kid's routine can make an impact, says Borba; there's a spillover effect that makes the next problem easier to tackle. "Kids really do get hooked on those feelings of accomplishment, and they genuinely want to receive your praise," she says.
How do you avoid being a pushover with your teens?
- By Charlotte Latvala
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