Surprise Me! (Not)

surpriseDo you like surprises?  Many people say they do, but in reality we only like GOOD surprises – the kind that make us feel warm and fuzzy, cared for or about, valued and remembered.  Those surprises are indeed good, but they are not that common.

More common are the unpleasant surprises – the dog left something for you on the rug; your doorbell rings with unexpected houseguests; your ex shows up at the same intimate gathering.  Unexpected happenings commonly occur when you are not prepared, the timing is not good, or you would just rather not.  All of them are surprises in that they are unplanned.  But still we insist we like surprises.  In fact most surprises are annoying at best and often disappointing (surprise!  Someone else got it and you weren’t picked for the job/promotion/ award!).

When it comes to raising kids the goal should be clear communication with no surprises.  It takes real effort to keep the communication clear and the best way to do this, since no one is perfect, is to check the understanding, at every age.

Not, “Do I make myself (perfectly) clear?” which parents are fond of saying in a harsh tone, when they’re laying down the law.

Rather, “Did I express myself clearly?  I want to be sure there is no misunderstanding of what I’m saying.  Could you please repeat it back so I know that we both have the same understanding?”

When things are checked on both sides in a respectful way, there are no surprises.

 

“I thought you said it would be OK to extend my curfew because the movie was running late.”

“I said no such thing.  When did you tell me the movie would end after your curfew?”

“I clearly said that this was a long movie – you heard me say that.”

“Long does not translate into past curfew.  You should have chosen an earlier showing.  Now you’re grounded for the rest of the month for breaking curfew 3 times in a row!”

“I hate you!  You never want me to have a life!”

 

Adolescents like to test the limits because they are learning how to stretch the boundaries to see just where the parents ‘end’ and they ‘begin’.  It’s part of the independence process, but can be hard for parents to adjust to and to live with.  Clear communication can help adolescents in this self-identification process.

“You know I don’t like surprises, and I am surprised that you missed your curfew tonight.  There have already been 2 incidents this week and you know the consequences of a 3rd.  I don’t want you to be grounded but it’s your choice on behavior.”

“I thought you said it would be OK to extend my curfew because the movie was running late.”

“I said no such thing.  And you didn’t exactly state that the movie would end after your curfew.”

“I clearly said that this was a long movie – you heard me say that.”

“Long does not translate into past curfew.  So now this is #3 and we agreed that on the consequence so you aren’t surprised to be grounded for the rest of the month.”

 

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  Helping adolescents learn to develop good behavior habits takes putting a structure in place, with logical consequences, and enforcement of the rules.  With their prior agreement and their input on the system, they will buy in to the process, maybe not fully but at least better, while getting the independence they crave (“it’s your choice on behavior”).  Both sides know how it works and there are no surprises to contend it, which can lead to anger if they feel like they’ve been treated unfairly (surprise! my house, my rules and you’re stuck!)

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