Thursday, July 5, 2018

My 4 year old...10 years later

Teens are: unpredictable, aliens, explosive, risk-taking, and temperamental. So say hundreds of parents when I ask them to throw out adjectives that describe their teen at my seminar: Adolescent Psychology-The Parent Version. You ask yourself, who is this person? I don't know what's going to come out of his/her mouth next. This is unsettling to say the least because what has worked in the past to calm your kid down so you can have a civilized conversation seems to have flown out the window. Not to mention, the way he wants to spend his time, the kinds of kids she likes to hang with, and what about how school used to be the most important part of his life. This isn't my kid, who is this kid?

Well actually deep down inside those tiny tank tops or baggy jeans and untied sneakers is the kid you raised, and all those characteristics you thought sweet or funny as a toddler, now in a taller, more filled out body...not so funny and sweet. For example, maybe you had that 3 year old who had fantastic verbal skills, and you thought it was so cute when they were able to talk you into reading just one more book at bedtime, or just one more cookie for dessert, or just one more episode of Sesame Street. After talking baby talk for 3 years, how refreshing to have these adult like conversations with your "little man". Well your "little man" has grown up and his verbal skills have grown with him, and he wants to share them with you! Now he understands that these verbal/negotiating skills can wear you down to the point that he is able to get exactly what he wants. And how about that adorable little 4 year old girl who had the energy of a rabbit, bouncing from one activity to the next. Running instead of walking, climbing the highest slide or jungle gym with you standing below, screaming, "honey be careful!!! Now at 14 she wants to run out of the house, hang with her friends, doing what and with whom..."Honey be careful"
Or maybe you had that shy 5 year old, who clung to your leg and didn't want to go into the school, or to the play date or the birthday party, and now as a 13 year old seems overwhelmed with the expectations of the 8th grade social strata.

See, they aren't really so different. What your teen brings to the table in terms of temperament and personality is biological, sorry,you can't change that. But you can be aware of it, and help your teen to see what their natural inclinations might be to keep them safe during this time in their life when their world is so inviting and exciting.  So if you have that risk-taking 4 year old all grown up now, it's important to have this kind of conversation; "You know honey, when you were little, you used to make me crazy with worry because you were always the kid who wanted to climb the highest tree, or ride your bike down the steepest hill, you were an excitement junkie. I loved how confident and fearless you were about things, always wanting to try something new. And I love that about you now, but because this is the essence of you, now as a teenager, you will also want to drive the fastest, party the hardest, take the biggest risks, and that worries me. We just need to make sure that you are safe, knowing that won't come naturally to you." Or if you have that verbal kid who has the skills of the slickest lawyer on TV, your job is to avoid getting into a verbal volleyball match. You won't win! Or maybe  you have that shy teen who has friends he wants to party with, and ends up going because he want to fit it. This shy 5 yr old grown up may be especially vulnerable to drinking or drugs because after the first experience with a few beers they feel the confidence and comfort in a group that they never felt before. That is a seductive feeling. So you need to say to this teen, "I know being in groups has always been hard for you, and now you have friends, which makes me so happy, and they want you to hang and go to parties where I know there is going to be alcohol and drugs. I worry that because those situations initially are hard for you, your friends might encourage you to drink to "loosen up" and that you might become dependent on alcohol or drugs to have fun in these situations.

Embrace the person your teen is and is becoming. Recognize the strengths in their personality and temperament, and give them the tools to manage them. Your legs won't be there to hold on to, and you won't always be waiting at the bottom of the slide.  They need the confidence and know-how to do it
"all by myself".

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