Improving relations with our kids doesn’t seem to be the top New Year’s Resolution most people think of. Most resolutions are very self-focused. I think the number one resolution is about physical fitness/weight loss. After that people focus on projects around the house, cooking healthier meals, etc. We should be giving special attention and effort to our relationships as well.
If you’ve decided improving relationship with your teenager is one of your resolutions, then you need to plan. Figure out a few reasonable ways you can track yourself to see how you’re doing. For example, if you tend to yell when you’re frustrated, you could write a quick note on a calendar at the end of each day: “Good today,” or “Yelled too much today.” While it’s simple, holding yourself accountable is the key to changed behavior. The other key is sticking with it. It has been said that it takes 7 weeks to change a habit. That’s 49 days; you need to use your behavior tracking tool every day for a month and a half if you really want to see change.
You will have to be patient. When you become nicer to people in your family they won’t even notice at first. They will go on reacting towards you the way they always have. You have to give it about three weeks before you’ll notice them starting to be kinder in return. Your adolescents won’t even be aware they are being nicer for the most part. It will just start to happen. So many parents I work with lose patience with this process because three weeks is quite a long time to continue making a huge effort. It’s hard to remember anything for three full weeks, let alone that you’re trying to control your behavior.
Have grace towards yourself. Unlike a New Year’s Resolution to run 4 days a week, you can’t measure your behavior and emotions in the same way. You can resolve to do 4 nice things for your teenager per week that you wouldn’t normally do, but you can’t decide to be kind 4 times per week and then have a perfect relationship. You have to be trying ALL the time, while constantly forgiving yourself for returning to your old ways. You have to push the reset button in your mind 20 times a day. When you do speak harshly to your teenager, or allow them to push you around, or whatever you’re trying to change, just take a deep breath and get back on the path. This will get easier over time, I promise!
Finally, don’t lose sight of the reward at the end. You need to consistently visualize what things will be like once you’ve achieved the goal of an improved relationship. Maybe you imagine hugging your son each morning when he’s on his way out the door to school. Perhaps you picture your daughter wanting to take a walk with you on a Saturday morning. Maybe you see yourselves sending funny little text messages to one another throughout the day. Whatever it is, don’t lose track of where you’re headed. Dave Ramsey always says, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it.” I couldn’t agree more. You have to have a tangible goal to achieve. It shouldn’t be unreasonable either. Don’t try and picture being best friends with your teenager because that’s not likely to happen, and you want them to have their own friends anyway. Just keep your focus on things looking a little better than they do right now.
My hope and prayer for you is that 2014 is a year filled with joy and blessings in your relationships with your children. I pray also that you learn as much from them as they do from you.
Happy New Year,