Parenting Advice for Parents of Tweens & Teens
EPISODE: 50 | DATE: July 8, 2021
“As your kids get older – especially in middle and high school – they have a lot of experiences that don’t include you. Preparing them for that is key.”
You describe yourself as a family experience designer and parenting coach and mentor. Can you elaborate on that for us? Who do you serve?
- Parenthood and childhood are a very unique experience.
- As parents, we have the first 18 years of our children’s lives to shape them. That’s 6570 days.
- It’s during that time that we have our highest impact window as parents. It’s our highest influence window.
- I believe it’s really important to have a good experience during those 18 years for all parties and especially for the kids.
- Because you and I know as adults that when we face any situation throughout the day whether it’s dropping a cup of coffee to a difficult decision or task – those knee jerk reactions that you have – those reflexes – are always tied to those first 18 years of your life.
- It is during those 18 years when those core beliefs and understandings are solidified.
- We as parents have the gift and the task to really shape these first 18 years into something that’s going to be a foundation for the rest of their lives.
- And so the family experience is about everybody in the family coming together during these 18 years.
- Of course we’re still parents after these 18 years and of course they’re still our children.
- But our highest impact and influence is during these 6570 days and it’s really important to have an awesome family experience that’s filled with fun and laughter but also a lot of teaching, some hard conversations and a lot of growth.
How long have you been doing this work?
- 9 years!
- I have always worked in behavior and choices. When I first came out of college I did behavioral work in marine mammals and I worked with humpbacks.
- It’s really interesting because whether you’re a humpback whale or seal or dolphin or penguin, there are a lot of similarities throughout the entire spectrum as far as behavioral work and choice management.
- Of course humans are much more intricate and complicated in those designs. But behaviorally it’s really interesting to see it across the spectrum in how similar we are.
How do you coach parents around this work when they are feeling overwhelmed and stressed out? Do you start with the child or do you start with the parent?
- I start with the family as a whole.
- For the stress out parent (and we’re all stressed from having been through this pandemic), instead of looking at this as Oh my goodness I have to get everything together right now in myself so I can be there and be the “perfect” parent for my kid so I can raise them to have this and that, walk through it with them.
- Vulnerability is so key here to have those conversations.
- Even if your kid is 4 or younger or 15 or whatever – you just have to be honest with your kids. Tell them you are having a really bad day today, that you’re struggling with these things and that you just need them to know that.
- That way you can tell them, “If you see me being short with you, just know it’s not you. It’s me. I’m having a rough time right now.
- When you can be vulnerable with them, they can understand that vulnerability is ok.
- And that also sends the message that we face things as a family, as a team. And we can get through anything together.
How do you work with families? When and where do you start?
- I work with all families but the majority of my families have pre-teens and teens.
- Preteens are that 9+ age group now.
- The behaviors that aren’t addressed before this age really start to pop up in middle and high school, so that’s when people usually come to me for help.
- My process with families is to start with the end in mind.
- Think of it like a map. If you’re going on a trip, you need to know where you’re going in order to get there on time.
- In parenting, we have a time limit.
- Once they hit legal adulthood, we lose a lot of that impact and influence that we can have in their lives. And so we have this time limit and we need to get there in time.
- So I start with the end and then retroactively work from where we are to make sure we’re going to get there.
- I really look at it as during these 18 years, they’re packing a bag. And then they’re going to take that bag with them into their future.
- And you as their parents get to really help them decide what will go into that bag.
- Do I want them to have courage, love, support, ingenuity? Do I want them to be independent?
- Do I want them to have world experiences, travel? What foundation do I want for them?
- Every family is unique and different in what foundation they want for their children.
- And when the children are older too in middle and high school, they can have a say in that and be able to voice their own opinions and their interests in what they want.
Even though it’s unique to every family, are there some basic core values or concepts that you recommend to everyone?
- Yes. I believe wholeheartedly that it really comes down to self led discipline and leadership.
- If you can put that into their bag, everything else is set.
- Those disciplines help our children to be able to make sound decisions that benefit them and the world around them.
- It always comes down to being able to make a decision, follow through with it and get to an accomplishment. That’s what self led discipline really is.
- Because when our kids are born, you come into it as a parent through parent-led discipline.
- You tell your kids it’s time to clean up and you do it with them and celebrate them for doing it with you.
- And then we get into this dance in late elementary and middle that is more consequential discipline, a kind of “do this or there is this consequence.”
- Self discipline is to say: now it’s your turn to take it and run with it and do it.
- They are making the decision on their own.
- I believe when you can become proficient in self led discipline, you become a self led leader and then you can lead anything.
- Whether that’s a corporation or a family or yourself – leadership is very important and vital in life.
- We also want courage, character and independence in our children’s toolkit.
- We want to help our kids own their own thoughts and not just be led down the rabbit holes of something like social media, for example.
- My job is to help parents be able to stay the influence, and to pass the gavel of that influence onto their child during this discipline spectrum so as to have them be able to discipline themselves toward what is coming into their environment.
I love the idea of self led discipline but what does that look like in practice?
- So let’s say you’re trying to get your kids to clean up and they say no or they are taking their sweet time.
- It’s really important to just ask, “Why are you choosing to do this instead of helping me and doing what I asked?”
- When you put them on the spot like that and ask why, it’s interesting.
- When they are young you’ll get an, “I don’t want to!”
- So if that’s the response, then ask, “Why don’t you want to? We’ve got all of these great things we’re going to do today – I’m really excited – but in order to do them, this needs to happen first and it would be really helpful. And it’s good to help other people!”
- This way, you give them a serving opportunity – an opportunity to help others.
- It’s not just I’m doing this because mom told me to. I’m doing this so I can help.
- When kids are young and then again when they get into middle and highschool, they become really self centered, which is natural. So just give them opportunities and reframe things in a manner to show them that serving others is a good thing. And in serving others, you also help yourself. Teach them about the helper’s high.
I like that – just keep the conversation open and ask questions rather than resorting to threats or reward.
- Yes. And staying calm.
- It’s amazing when you look inside of the body and brain and endocrine system – we want to avoid spikes at all costs.
- So when you have that spike of JUST DO THIS! That is a spike in YOU and in them.
- We must always remember that what we say as parents to them becomes what they say to themselves as adults.
- But when you do spike and you do raise your voice, that’s a vulnerable moment for us. Apologize and model for them what that looks like. Be open and honest about why you reacted the way you did and use it as a teaching opportunity.
- If they can see that you can apologize, they can know that they can apologize too.
How do you help parents navigate this work of building self discipline into their homes if they haven’t done the work yet to identify their own limiting beliefs, triggers and blindspots?
- I do see these generational passing of the baton of anger, tempers, insecurities, maybe even addictions and things like that.
- In order to have the generational stop to this, there needs to be whole family work happening.
- This is why I do family work and not just parent work and kid work separately.
- If you bring the whole family together the work can happen simultaneously which is so beautiful to witness.
- I also have a lot of things in my bag that aren’t necessarily things I want to take forward.
- So part of the work that I do is a lot of core belief work. And that is core beliefs that you want to put an end to and core beliefs that you want to begin and those you want to sustain.
- When you get triggered, just remind yourself: I’m doing the best that I can with what I have. I am continuously growing every day to be the best version and parent I can be in order to serve you and your future.
- Have that conversation with your children, and let them know when you get triggered, that you’re doing the best you can right now and you’re going to be better tomorrow.
- That’s what growth looks like as a family.
- You can work through it together. You can have accountability together.
- In our family we have meetings.
- We’ve been doing this since the kids were little.
- These are just open discussions of how we are feeling, what’s going on, how we can best serve each other as a whole family based on whatever they are going through.
- Having that vulnerability and accountability is key.
- When you can work on accountability as a family, that’s powerful.
- There are the people you do life with.
How often do you have those family meetings?
- At the beginning of every semester of school and then monthly.
Is it just a check in or do you have an agenda?
- There is an agenda.
- We all sit down in the living room on the couch and we really just go through what are you looking to accomplish personally, in school, etc.
- Because when you can share your goals, others can help you be accountable and cheer you on when you hit milestones along the way.
- And also help lift you when you fall down.
- We will all fail – and making it real and normal is a blessing for every family and every person.
- So we sit down and go through what you are excited about right now. We ask if there is there something happening in your life or the family that’s bothering you, is there a way we can better serve you.
- Everyone gets time to speak and no one else can talk when it’s that person’s turn.
- Invariably we’ll always get one person out of the 6 of us that won’t really want to talk.
- And of course if they don’t want to talk there is something deeper happening.
- So I just implore them to talk, to let us know what’s happening. I keep asking questions all the while staying calm.
- That said, you never want it to turn into a power struggle of so and so hurt me because they took my bear out of my room and someone says no I didn’t!
- Once it goes there, you’ve lost control.
- So you want to give that person time to speak their mind and move on from there.
How important do you think it is for families to sit down for dinner together?
- I think it’s very important if that is your time.
- Regardless if it’s dinner or something else, you want time every day that you come together.
- You need at least some point during the day that you come back together and rejoin on that timeline every day.
- It could be dinner. For us it’s a walk with the dogs every night at 5pm.
Let’s talk about social media influence on our children, and the influence from kids and peers at school in general. How can parents navigate that?
- This is incredibly tricky because we are raising children in an environment that we never experienced ourselves.
- That’s tricky to do. So we’re testing the waters along with them.
- Perfectionism is a big one that comes up around social media.
- When it comes to that one, it’s important to help your children understand that it’s non-existent. That there is no such thing as perfect.
- You need to peel back the layers and help them understand filters, to help them see that there are all of these things out there today that are being used in order to enhance, filter out.
- We need to teach them that people are real. And real is going to be the most beautiful form of beautiful there is.
- As a whole, we want to stop generational perfectionism.
- And unfortunately, social media is only going to grow more and get more polarized which is scary.
- We have so many kids out there that are searching for a place to belong and to feel comfortable and to be accepted.
- And there is this whole movement toward don’t label me as anything – and I’m talking fitness, gamer, nerd, engineer, athlete, LGBTQ – don’t label me but please lable me so that I fit somewhere.
- And it’s very confusing and scary. And the only place they are going to be able to feel understood completely is in their home.
- I even find that kids feel they can’t be themselves around their friends because they are always trying to be somebody else.
- That’s why I truly believe that the only way to change the world is in the living room. At home.
- That is how we can change the world.
- And everything that’s going to happen in our future is in our living rooms right now because that’s where they feel like they can be themselves and develop into themselves.
- So that’s my advice with social media and influences in general.
- That said, there is this balance of you don’t want to necessarily take it away completely.
- Because if you do that they will just find another route to get there.
- So it comes back to that self led discipline. And of acknowledging that this is here and it exists.
- But you need to discipline your thoughts, feelings and behaviors in order to not let this be the primary influence in your life.
- So as parents we’re constantly playing tug war to be the bigger influence over social media and everything else out there.
- We don’t raise them in a bubble but we want to expose them to things and have conversations about it.
- Because as they get older, especially in middle and high school, your kids have a lot of experiences that don’t include you.
- So preparing them for that, preparing them to always speak and act in respect and kindness to others is going to be key for them to find joy for themselves and to promote joy to others.
You have something called The Vault on your website. Can you tell us about that?
- It’s a collection of different tools you can use for these family meetings at the beginning of the educational semester, conversation starters to have with your kids (ie. what are you learning that excites you? Who do you feel closest to outside of our family? I’d love to get to know them a bit better from your perspective? Is there any way I can help you more as your parent?)
- There are also time management tools in there, and other things of that nature.
- This summer I’m doing a masterclass series called “How to get your teen to discipline themselves so you don’t have to.”
- It’s for tweens too but that made the title too long!
- I’ll be running that several times over the summer.
- I will dive into the #1 mistake parents are making when it comes to motivating their teens and really getting them to move outside of themselves.
- I will discuss how to rebuild respect.
- If you poll parents of tweens and teens, it always comes down to: “they don’t listen, they aren’t motivated and they don’t respect.”
- Those are the top 3 complaints about teens and tweens in my experience.
- And as a parent, we of course always worry about their safety and they will be more safe if they are enacted to make better decisions.
What is that number 1 mistake parents are making with their tweens and teens?
- Engaging in power struggles.
Resources mentioned in this episode
Nellie’s Masterclass: https://www.nellieharden.com/masterclass
The Vault: https://www.nellieharden.com/vault
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