I first met psychotherapist Liza Kramer when I was giving a workshop on therapist techniques. Very quickly, I saw signs that said to me, “This is someone who genuinely helps her clients.” Soon after, I saw that Liza also would be giving a workshop for therapists. Hers was entitled, “How to Be the Dumbest Person in the Room.” That title intrigued me.
This post shares what I learned subsequently from interviewing Liza. Happily, Liza’s techniques for therapy with teenagers can be equally effective when a mom or dad uses them as parenting techniques.
5 Parenting Errors and Tips for More Effective Parenting
Error #1: Make it clear to your teenagers that you are the boss. You know what’s best for them. (“Do what I say! Do it now!”)
Tip: Be the dumbest one in the room.
Instead of telling your teen what to do, ask questions. Good questions generally begin with “How” or “What.” “How did you feel when …” “What do you think about … ?” “What might happen if instead of doing X you tried Y?” “What might be another option that would work better for you?”
Then, in response to the teenager’s answers, always start by agreeing. “Yes … I can see your point. It makes sense that …” or “I agree that …”
If in fact, you disagree, pause before you respond. Pause to give yourself time to think. Then start by responding with something you can agree with in what you heard. “Yes, it makes sense to me that you want to … because …”
Then beware. Be sure to add your alternative perspective with “… and at the same time …”
If you respond instead with but, you lose. Why? But deletes whatever came before. But replaces what your teenager said with your perspective. That’s the opposite of being “the dumbest person in the room.”
Error #2: Be on the lookout for all the problematic, dumb, and irritating actions teens do and then be sure to point them out. (“Look, you left your clothes all over the floor again!”)
Tip: Notice which eye you use when you look at your teenager.
Are you using the bad eye, the eye that looks for what’s wrong with what your teen does? Or are you on the lookout with your good eye for what the teen does that is good? “I saw you helping your little brother today with his homework and I was so impressed with how patiently you explained the work to him.”
This good-eye strategy works because you’ll get more of whatever you focus on. Focus on the teens’ mistakes and you’ll get more of them. Use your good eye and focus on what you see — you’ll get more of the good.
What if your bad eye still keeps focusing on your teenager’s problematic behaviors? Initiate problem-solving instead of criticism. Start by asking questions. “What kind of system could you set up so your clothes go somewhere other than on the floor?”
If the teenager draws a blank, at that point you could venture some hypothetical solutions. “I wonder what might be different for you if you built a habit of undressing next to your closet so you could drop clothes into the laundry basket there as you take them off?”
Or even better, “I found this laundry basket today in the basement. How about if you put it in the far corner of your room, then use it like a basketball net to toss your clothes in instead of dropping them on the floor?”