I’m Still Seeing Attitude


I expected it:  some parents got defensive after the last post (All That Attitude).  “But,” they said, “what if I’m speaking in a calm and reasonable tone and I still get attitude?”

That’s when you use “The One,” which is simply your index finger pointed up, as in “Wait.”  Don’t comment on the attitude and don’t reply to what’s being said (it’s probably just to bait you anyway); instead, say, “Wow.  I don’t feel very respected by your tone (or words).  Could you try that again, but more respectfully, please?”  As lame as it may sound, I have almost 100 percent success with this.

If the comment is repeated in a nicer tone, then respond pleasantly or with empathy, depending on what is said.  For example, your reply to “Why do I have to do all the work around here?” might be, “It feels like it sometimes, doesn’t it?  I can totally relate.”

If it’s out of line no matter the tone, as in, “I said, ‘I hate my brother,'” don’t overreact.  You can deflect attitude by being neutral – try shrugging and saying, “Seems like everybody feels that way once in awhile.”  No need to lecture on using “hate” or other strong language; by middle school, they’ve heard it.  Again,  you’re being baited.

If the comment isn’t repeated because the speaker knows it’s over the line, or because not repeating it is a power ploy (“Just forget it”), then let it go.  End the conversation.  Change the subject.  Avoid getting sucked into a battle that isn’t related to anything else.

It takes patience and willpower to head off an Incident, and you may need to phone a friend to vent afterward, but stick with it and you’ll see the dreaded Attitude diminish.

(Just be sure you’re not the one who invites it back.)

She’ll Get So Mad!

One day a mom asked me for a good consequence for misbehavior.  When I suggested confiscating her daughter’s cell phone, her eyes widened as she said, “I could never do that!  She’d get so mad!”

The same thing has happened when I’ve suggested hiding the power cord to a son’s XBox.  “I don’t think I could,” was the parental response.  “He’d be so mad there’d be no living with him.”

Parenting teens is not for the faint of heart.  They can smell fear, and they will take full advantage of it.  If they know you’re afraid of their anger and their tantrums, you’re in for it.  Angry teens are no fun to deal with, but imagine a world where parents never made their teens mad.  This would mean they’d never say no, never require chores, never insist on homework, never expect a clean bedroom, and hand over money and the car keys whenever asked.  Not likely to happen.

Sometimes you have to make them mad, but that shouldn’t actually be your goal.  The purpose of a consequence is discipline, not punishment.  The difference is that the root word of discipline is disciplina, which means “to instruct.”  The root word of punish is punir, which is related to inflicting pain.  You should never have the attitude of “She made me mad, so I’m going to make her suffer!”  There isn’t much point to that, other than to prove you have all the power (which you shouldn’t have to prove anyway).   Consequences handed down when you’re mad are more likely to be for the purpose of punishing.

Wait until you’re both calm (in my workshops I call this being “in the blue zone”), and then issue a consequence with an explanation:  “Respect is something we value in this family.  You haven’t been respectful to me lately, so I’m going to take away your phone/XBox/car keys for a week.”  When he argues that you can’t do that, or she says that you’ll ruin her life, reply with, “I know it’s hard, and I’m sorry you’ll be so miserable, but I want you to see how important it is for you to treat people with respect.”

Guess what?  This is going to make your teen mad.  Really, really mad.  She’ll do all she can to pick a fight, or hurt your feelings, or deflect your attention away from the real issue, or all of the above.  You have to be the adult and stay calm.  Repeat that you’re sorry, but that’s the way it is.  Don’t yell, retaliate, lecture, or resort to sarcasm.  Repeat “One week,” and then leave the room with the confiscated item in your hand.

Chances are good that doors will slam and music will blare, but that’s okay.  Let him have his tantrum as long as he’s not hurting anyone.  Stay firm, and stay calm.

It’ll be easier next time.  Or if not the next time, then the time after that.  Okay, it will get easier eventually.


“You Don’t Care!”

My friend asked for advice because her 11-year-old son likes to throw this phrase at her, and she’s getting tired of hearing it.  She knows he doesn’t really think she doesn’t care, but it’s getting on her nerves all the same.

I suggested she explain to him that he’s confusing “caring” with letting him have his own way.  For example, he wants it quiet on the way to school so he can finish his homework.  When she won’t shush his brothers, she’s accused of not caring.  She can encourage him to use an “I” message, as in – “I’m so frustrated by all this noise!” – instead of attacking her.  Or he can think of other solutions, such as completing his homework the night before, getting up a little earlier, or wearing headphones in the car.  But she should definitely point out that they both know she does care, so it’s an unfair accusation.

I also suggested she could call it like it is and tell him he’s just being manipulative, and she doesn’t like it.  She could mention that such comments actually make her less willing to help him.   At 11, he will appreciate being involved in an adult-ish conversation (with big words), as well as being involved in the solution.

Parents should keep in mind that such comments are usually strategic tactics designed to deflect attention away from the issue at hand.  What parent isn’t sensitive to being accused of not being perfect enough?

Here’s a tip:  just put up your “Nice-try-kiddo” deflecting shield and let such remarks bounce right off of you!