“My Daughter is Turning into a Monster and so am I”
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Early in my counseling career, I met with a mother and her teenage daughter who were both at their wits’ end. “Nothing I do is right. She’s pushing limits and fighting me at every turn,” the mother said. Her daughter, in turn, told me that her mother didn’t understand. “I can’t wait until I’m 18 and can move out.” Both mother and daughter said that they had a great relationship a few years prior, but had struggled since the daughter started middle school.
The teen years have a lot in common with the “terrible two’s”
The teen years and the toddler years both involve developmental stages where kids are learning new skills of independence and begin challenging authority. These are periods of rapid physical and intellectual growth. The hormonal changes responsible for this growth often leave kids emotional and irrational, and parents at a loss at how to understand their once easy-going child.
If you have ever felt that you and your child are on competing battlefronts, or find yourself exhausted from constant limit-pushing, you are far from alone. Setting and enforcing limits with kids is one of the biggest challenges parents face on a daily basis.
The A-C-T Model
Having an effective plan to talk things out, maintain family values and work through problems can make your parenting job just a little easier. Child-psychologist, Garry Landreth, developed a simple yet effective model to defuse situations and redirect behaviors while allowing your child to feel heard.
A: Acknowledge the Feeling
C: Communicate the Limit
T: Target Alternative Behaviors
Acknowledge The Feeling
Actively listen to what your child says. Withhold Judgment. Provide validation through mirroring (repeating what they’ve said in your own words to ensure you understand) and give appropriate support to show that you value them as a person with their own thoughts and experiences. When you skip this step, you run the risk of your child feeling unheard. Validate first. When a person feels validated, they are much more likely to listen to what you have to say. This is essential when you are trying to communicate a limit.
Communicate The Limit
Once you have gained an understanding of your child’s point of view and rationale, you can communicate (or recommunicate) the rule, or make exceptions if they are appropriate. Sometimes there are valid reasons for going against guidelines. If this is one of those times, talk about why that is the case. If it is not, make sure that you have established clear and measurable expectations.
When you remind your child of the limits and consequences, be mindful of your tone and nonverbal body language. Remain calm and keep statements objective. You don’t want your child responding to your feelings of frustration that may be just below the surface.
If your verbal and nonverbal message doesn’t align, you will be sending confusing signals to your child and they will likely respond to the negative message. This is only human. Think about when your child huffs and puffs about taking out the trash, but does it anyway. Which are you most likely to respond to? The fact that they are doing the task, or the fact that they are complaining?
Target Alternative Behaviors
Talk about alternative ways of handling situations that could still result in meeting the need your child identified when you were listening to their reasoning. Could there be solutions that are more appropriate than what your child chose to do? Consider creative solutions or compromises when appropriate. Brainstorm possible solutions for future situations so that your child has ideas for handling similar situations better next time. This helps your child to see that you are approachable when they need support.
Let’s Put This Into Action
Scenario: “Sarah” comes home 15 minutes past curfew. You are steaming mad when she arrives, but keep your cool (pat yourself on the back). Sarah says that she’s late because she needed to drop a friend off at their house. Their ride left them at the party and Sarah didn’t want to leave them stranded.
Acknowledge the feeling: You first recognize Sarah’s rationale and the qualities of responsibility, loyalty, and commitment to her friend. You understand her reasoning.
Communicate the limit: The curfew still stands. Sarah was late. At this point, you may decide to make an exception if this is an anomaly. Or you may decide to discuss possible consequences with Sarah and opt for a less severe consequence given the reason for the broken curfew.
Target alternative behaviors: Brainstorm what Sarah can do next time. Maybe she could call and ask for an extension. Or lend her phone to her friend so that she could call for a ride. Could she drive home with her friend and then have you drive the friend home? This conversation sets Sarah up for choosing a better alternative next time.
By using the A-C-T model, you ensure both that your child feels heard, limits are more likely to be maintained, and peace returns to your household.
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The Circle of Security Parenting program helps parents:
- Understand their child’s emotional world and respond to their emotional needs
- Support their child’s ability to successfully manage emotions in order to reduce tantrums
- Enhance their child’s self-esteem through positive relationship building
- Honor your innate wisdom and capitalize on your parenting strengths
Circle of Security Parenting© is an evidence-based curriculum supporting parent-child relationship development. The program is led by Sofia Philips, MSW, LMSW, a registered Circle of Security Parenting facilitator with over 18 years of experience working with children and their families. This program educates caregivers through exploring secure and problematic parent/child interaction, trouble-shooting current parenting problems and setting families up for success with tools to manage future parenting roadblocks.