This section contains an assortment of helpful widgets that can enhance and embolden your efforts at home. It also provides you with an opportunity to weigh in on these subjects; perhaps contribute in ways that we haven’t foreseen. Hopefully, you’re arriving here after already reading “Getting Started“, “Emotional Intelligence” and “Body Language“. If so, this segment will be much more useful to you. When you’re done here, don’t forget to check out the “Talking Points” section, where you’ll find fresh topics and ice breakers to help you initiate productive conversations with your teens- new selections are delivered right here every day.
“Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee”
Mohammed Ali’s artful pageantry and subterfuge often allowed him to set up his opponents without their even being aware. We never think of our kids as opponents, of course, but they often resist our efforts to deliver consequential messages. Do your best to artfully maneuver your kids into a receptive mood before broaching an important topic. They can spot a lecture a mile away, and will do anything to avoid it.
One of the best ways to ease into a consequential message is by the use of a surrogate topic. Our Talking Points Page is fed by daily news stories, celebrity biographies, and interesting tidbits that are individually selected to help you ease your way into consequential discussions at home. We’ve also included things like movie listings, sports stories etc. so you can quickly fill your head with ancillary discussion points. Instead of “Son, sit down a minute…”, try, “Hey, did you see that youtube video of David Hasselhoff drunk and vomiting on himself?” You’re in the door, and no one felt a thing.
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Do It At The Dinner Table
Repeated studies have shown that families who eat together have better communication patterns, along with statistically significant lower levels of substance abuse. The dinner table comes equipped with ideal seating positions and comfortable spacing for family members. It provides a primary purpose for being together, which allows you to more subtly initiate consequential topics. Eating from a plate all but commands an “open” gesture pattern, and the intake of calories releases endorphins which naturally elevates the mood of those at the table. Pizza anyone!
A Conversation a Day
If your family is like ours, most of our members seem to meet only as ships passing in the night. If we allow this circumstance to become our family’s repertoire, we actually construct an environment in which meaningful communication cannot occur naturally. Most of us have had a supervisor at work that only really speaks to us when something’s wrong. They’re friendly enough -say “hi” as they pass by- maybe even do a favor for us every now and then. But still we get anxious the moment they linger beyond the casual greeting phase of an encounter. We know something’s up, and as the subordinate member of the conversation, we instinctively brace ourselves for the encounter. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because you live together, you’re family members are not subject to this same sociological phenomenon.
We have to train our families to not only anticipate frequent conversations, but to anticipate conversations that routinely penetrate the “casual greeting” envelope. Unless we are completely accustomed to “letting someone in” to our inner thoughts, we instinctively block their access. The teenage mind constructs new walls and creates new access privileges on a daily basis. If you don’t keep your password current, its easy to find yourself locked out. (Sometimes you see this when a child will only open up to one of their parents.) At least one meaningful conversation of ten minutes per day, should preserve the lines of communication between you and your teen.
Choose Your Timing
If you’re going to breach a tough subject, its better to do it on a ‘brighter’ day. Brighter days are those which come towards the end of a work/stress period and just prior to something that is fondly anticipated. This helps reduce the stress typically felt during and just after a consequential conversation. The weekend fits this profile perfectly. Thursday is better than Friday because they’re still in business mode. Come Friday & Saturday, its all about recreation and social networking – you’ll fight for their attention and they’ll resent you for it. But this is why we review the topic on Sunday evening, as they’re transitioning back to business. By this time, your review can include an evaluation of their progress since the first talk. The recap and measurement will knock out two key elements your team efforts.
Let Them Take the Wheel
A Black Bag conversation tactic that can be used sparingly, involves mom or dad acting as if they’re preoccupied about something important. We’re not talking nail-biting here, just a lowered head and a few delayed responses. Once the teen asks about your worries, you explain that you wanted to talk to them about something but wasn’t sure how to do it. Most teens leap at the chance to take the lead in the conversation. The tough part here is the follow-through. You’ve got to let them lead the entire conversation. Form your points into questions, and listen more than you talk. If you feel the need to assert yourself, hold off a day or two and then start the conversation in a more traditional way.
Used correctly, this technique can be incredibly empowering for your children. It can help them develop as a mediator, and improve the way they respond to you when its your turn to lead a conversation. It can also be surprising how effortlessly your teen can choose the right path, when they feel assured that it was their idea to do so.
The best athletes use their “mind’s eye” to see themselves complete a successful play before they pull it off. As strategists, we have to use a similar technique to envision our plan and anticipate the variables before we attempt to execute it. This should be done as a team. If the goal is to keep the bedroom clean, we need to plot out whether we are going to do a little cleaning each day, or instead spend an hour on it at the end of the week. Do this together, and take turns throwing foreseeable obstacles into the scenario. That way, when these things come up in real life, the team has already visualized a path to success.
Let Them Own It
One of the key elements of success is the “buy in”. People care more and work harder when they identify with the goal, and own a piece of the reward. A great way to achieve this buy-in is to involve your child in the development of your strategy. That makes it more personal, and encourages them to ensure the success of their own ideas. When it comes to the reward, be sure that you have a stake in it as well. This demonstrates that your child’s failure affects the whole family as a team. A monthly trip to an amusement park, shopping at the mall, dinner at a favorite restaurant – all group rewards that can be applied as individual incentives.
Focus on Success
Children need to understand the consequences of failure, but make sure that you spend twice as much time emphasizing the rewards of success. This isn’t semantics! When a person is cautioned to guard against failure, it’s only natural for anxiety to develop around the issue. This anxiety can actually add to the pressure they’re feeling. We’re much more effective, and much less stressed, when we’re working towards a success.
This is particularly important for teens. Younger people habitually overlook the antecedent causes of failure. If we’re dealing with substance abuse, for example, its common for a teenager to say to themselves, “I’m just not going to drink. Problem solved.” Armed with this fatally simplistic solution, they then place themselves into circumstances which dramatically increase the pressure to drink. They follow in the footsteps of the drinkers, but believe they can “just say know” when its their turn. By then, the pressure’s really on and failure is all but ensured.
When we instead work towards a specific success, our minds search for creative ways to ensure that success. A teen that is focussed on the rewards of “staying sober”, is much more likely to plan his actions around that goal. In the process, they eliminate the friends, locations and pressures that most commonly cause underage drinking. This holistic approach is infinitely more successful.
The Monster Mimic
O.K., so you’re stuck with the kid that just won’t open up. His/her body language is telling you that there’s a huge “Closed” sign hanging around their neck. You’re demonstrating the right body language yourself. You’re timing seems to be right. You’ve even tried a little banter, and none of its working. What else can you do? Pull out the big guns with the Monster Mimic.
Remember that when we subtly mirror someone’s body language it helps reduce anxiety and create rapport. Well this time we’re blowing the doors off of the subtlety. If she’s got her leg draped over the armrest, mom and dad to the same. If he’s got his elbows on his knees with a hoodie pulled over his head, you go to wardrobe and get your own hoodies out. Take this little game as far as they do, just be sure NOT to call verbal attention to it. Go through the motions as if its completely natural. It’s not flawless, but in the toughest of situations, the Monster Mimic is nearly guaranteed to loosen things up.