My younger daughter turns 14 tomorrow. While she has been a teenager for almost a year, it's just in the past few months that I have really begun to feel like the mom of two teenagers.
And here's what I've discovered. Parenting teenagers is all about attitude -- theirs and mine. As we've been dealing with all kinds of attitudes and hormones in this household with two teenage daughters, I've learned a few things.
The truth is that it's not just parenting teenagers where attitude comes into play. Our kids have attitudes all the way from toddler (try taking a toddler's toy away and see what I mean) through adulthood (I know sometimes I struggle with attitude, too.) Parenting in general is all about changing attitudes.
We've dealt with some particularly poor attitudes in the past couple of weeks, and here's what I've learned: Attitude is always a heart issue. Luke 6:45 says, "the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." When our kids are spilling attitude out of their mouths, it's because there's something amiss in their heart.
When we recognize that attitude is a heart issue, we realize that we have to deal with the underlying issue if we're going to change the behavior. We can correct the behavior all we want, but until our kids have a heart change, their attitude will never change.
When I came to the conclusion that attitude is a heart issue, I started asking myself these five questions before trying to address my kids' behaviors. These questions work at any age and can help you get to the root of the problem instead of just slapping a Band-aid on the behavior.
Is this a pattern of behavior or a one-time deal?
- Does my kid normally act like this? Is this something that has happened several times? These are all questions to ask yourself. If it's a one-time thing where your child said something rude or talked back to you, deal with the behavior and move on. We all have bad days. If it's a pattern of behavior, it's time to look below the surface.
Are there outside circumstances affecting my child?
- What's really going on? Attitudes are almost always affected by circumstances. If your child is continually throwing attitude your way, then it's time to investigate what else is going on in their world. Talk with your child. Ask questions about their friends, about school, about how they feel about themselves. Keep in mind hormones are an issue if you have teens. Sometimes our kids need us to cut them some slack. Other times they need us to figure out how to help them solve what's bothering them.
Who has my child been hanging out with?
- The company you keep matters. If your child is hanging out with kids who are constantly copping an attitude, then they will learn that behavior. Take an inventory of your children's friends and identify any behaviors that your child may have picked up elsewhere. For younger kids, you might decide to stop spending so much time with those friends. For older kids, it's time to have a conversation about the company they're keeping.
Am I the problem?
- Sometimes, our child's attitude is a direct reflection of our own. If we're snapping at our kids all the time, it's not unusual for them to snap back. After all, we're modeling the behavior. Don't want your kid to be snarky? Don't be snarky yourself. It may be that we have to change our own attitude and behavior before we try to change those of our kids.
Have we prayed about it?
- Before you address the issue with your kids, sit down and pray about it. God may reveal something to you that you haven't seen before. Ask your child to pray about it, too. They may not even know why they feel the way they feel. God can reveal that to them, too.
Changing attitudes is all about changing our kids' hearts. If we keep in mind that the attitude is just a reflection of what's below the surface, we become much better at parenting our kids through it.