I have three daughters, 13, 16 and 18 and the oldest two have strikingly different but very strong personalities. Throughout their childhoods they have fought and they have grown older the words hurt and wound more profoundly. I have always had a keen interest in the subject of emotional intelligence and have regularly explained to both daughters the importance of explaining calmly what is upsetting them, rather than resorting to being nasty and bitchy. I explain that becoming unpleasant means they lose any power they may have had if they had remained calm, forthright and clear.
So in essence they have been parented well and attentively and yet they seem unable to put my advice into practice! Is it normal for their age, this inability to communicate their needs effectively, despite my regular discussions on the subject?
First off, let’s define “normal.” If we are looking at “normal” as being a common occurrence, then YES, it is perfectly “normal” for children to seemingly completely ignore everything that is coming out of a well intentioned lesson by us, the parents and others.
But let’s get down to basic human behavior. When we are hurt or threatened, our typical reaction is to defend ourselves from our perceived aggressor. In all stages of development, the typical response to pain and discomfort is to find a way to stop it. Depending on our personality and what behaviors we have deemed “work for us” this can be a different response in everyone.
Typically, when someone with an introverted personality feels attacked or threatened, they may withdraw and try to become invisible, hoping that their aggressor won’t see them or notice them if they don’t say a word. They protect themselves with silence, and often quietly let their insecurities brew.
Someone with an extroverted personality who feels attacked is more likely to strike back against their aggressor to make the pain stop and defend themselves. They may do this by attempting to make the other person feel just as bad, if not worse, than themselves. Their goal is to create injury to keep the aggressor away.
Of course, there are always exceptions and combination personality types, but the fight or flight reaction is generally the same. The introverted personality may let their frustrations brew to a point where they have reached their limit and unleash on their aggressor when their normal reactions aren’t getting anywhere. Just like the extroverted personality can change their tactics and withdraw.
Our children’s automatic reaction is to respond in some fashion to stop the aggressiveness and threat. In your experience with your children, their reactions aren’t pleasant or effective, but in their mind, their responses are working to their advantage. Until they see and learn the alternative methods themselves, it will be hard for them to acknowledge otherwise.
But here’s the best part. They ARE listening. They do hear what you have to say and most likely it makes sense to them and they respect it because, it’s true. However, they are in a developmental stage of life where they have better luck trying on ideas and behaviors for themselves to truly learn and “get it.” This is incredibly hard for parents to accept because we just want to protect our child and intervene when we see the pain in their lives. Of course! But in reality, they have to try on the behavior to truly understand the pros and cons of each, and they have to do it on their terms.
However, once they start to experience the truth of your advice and knowledge, they will begin to acknowledge that it does work and that you are very, very wise. (don’t be surprised if they choose not to tell you or allow you to relish in the satisfaction of your own greatness).
Just the other day, I had a 17 year old boy, who knows my counseling style very well, tell me how he was feeling about a situation he didn’t feel in control of. Before I could offer a suggestion or analysis, he interjected, “I know exactly what you’re going to say and I know you’re right, but I don’t want to hear that right now. I just want to be angry.” And there it is.
So keep talking to them about it, keep modeling the behaviors that work well and keep the faith that they will get it. If you can hold on to that, you have nothing to lose….except sleep, hair and possibly a few years off your life.