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Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

On becoming a more tolerant, patient human being (Damn it!)

August 18, 2009

Sometimes we all need a new perspective

Sometimes we all need a new perspective

Face it, the people we live with (and love and cherish more than life itself) can push our buttons like nobody’s business. (That expression never made much sense to me but I’ve always liked the sound of it.) This button-pushing fest can be especially competitive between parents and teens. They give us “that” look,“that” attitude, etc. etc. and we just lose it. And you don’t need me to tell you that we parents do and say things that irritate the crap out of our teens.

But who’s the adult here, right? It’s bad enough to blow up (or melt down) with our own flesh and blood, but when I think about what my “moments” taught my kids about self-control, conscious choice-making, and treating others with respect, well, I want to turn myself in to the bad parent police. OK, so no parent is perfect. And we all have gone off the deep end from time to time. We need to forgive ourselves in the same way that we forgive our kids when they act… crazy.

A new school year is about to burst forth with all kinds of never-before-seen challenges to our parenting chops. If you haven’t reached human perfection yet, you might want to try this simple process. It can help you be more of the parent you want to be more of the time. (i.e., especially when someone in your family is being soooooooo annoying!)

When a family member does or says something that grates on your nerves, ask yourself:
1. What’s going on with me right now? Irritation? Embarrassment? Frustration? Boredom? Resentment? Jealousy? Identifying what you’re feeling is the first step to understanding yourself and your reactions and taking those reactions off automatic pilot.

2.Why is this bothering me so much? We just may be least tolerant of those whose behavior reflect traits that we least like in ourselves. That’s something worth thinking about when a family member starts to drive you crazy.

3. What’s my usual way of responding? What are the usual consequences of my response? How do those help/aggravate the situation? Thinking clearly about your usual reactions can encourage you to explore other options. Especially if what you normally do just makes things worse.

4. What does this person need? That’s not often asked when people push your buttons, but if you can ask it and consider the possible answers, negative family dynamics may start to shift. For example, does this person (my son/daughter/partner) just need someone to listen to them and acknowledge their feelings? Sounds like what most of us want and need at different times. So the problem may not be what the person wants, but rather their inability to ask for it directly. If you can figure out what they want and you can provide some or all of it, you might find a) their “irritating” behaviors become less frequent, b) you feel more compassion and love towards them, and c) you feel good about having freed yourself from an unhelpful automatic response. Win-win.

Begin today. Talk honestly with your teens about the challenges all people have expressing our needs and responding to family members in conscious and compassionate ways. Share with them what you’ve learned about being part of a family. (The positive legacy and the not so.) Remind them that families are forever, but family dynamics are not carved in stone. Just because two people have always interacted in a certain way doesn’t mean they can’t change. With compassion and a willingness to be honest about your feelings and your needs, you teach your children that healthy adults can continue growing in positive directions. Bottom line, just like our teens, we parents are also works in progress.



  1. Hi Annie,

    Thanks for a great article, when I first read it my immediate response was “0h-Crap”, this lady is struggling with the same thing with teens that I’m facing with my preschool child!

    So the impatience, annoyance, frustration etc. doesn’t seem to go away it just turns onto other aspects of parent/child relationships as our children grow up and mature.

    This is why I think your post is very useful! I can see that stopping and asking myself these questions will possibly help me to get through the rough spots with perhaps more dignity than I normally manage. Maybe, just maybe this will help me to make this more of a natural response by the time my kids are teens!?!

    Thank you for sharing!

    Comment by Marilyn — August 18, 2009 @ 9:06 pm

  2. Hey Annie!

    Thanks for the great blog post! I’m glad you wrote about buttons being pushed by the people you know and love the most – family. It goes on beyond the teen years, too! My kids can push my buttons, my parents still can, and I know I trigger their buttons, also. Not only are parents continually in progress, we’re all people in progress. Your four questions were right on, because it usually boils down to what is going on inside oneself. I will use the four questions with my upper elementary students. They help bring clarity and are easy to understand.

    Comment by Jane Balvanz — August 22, 2009 @ 8:41 pm

  3. I like the idea of identifying what you’re feeling. I’m feeling jealous, embarrassed, frustrated, etc. is a lot more articulate than, “Aggh! (S)he is being so annoying!” That makes sense as a good place to start and then to alter your behavior from there.

    Comment by Fayette — August 23, 2009 @ 9:03 am

  4. Even when you know what you’re feeling and why, not so easy… I try deep breaths, and walking away if I have to, until I can come back and engage in clear communication.

    And yes indeed, it is the same impatience, frustration, and fatigue as when dealing with little kids, at times. Only the issues are more complex, and we, as parents, have far less control over behaviors or outcomes.

    Comment by BigLittleWolf — August 23, 2009 @ 6:56 pm

  5. Tx for these self-calming tactics. Love ’em. I listened to a cool audio CD the other day called “Don’t Bite the Hook” that rocked my world a bit…making me realize the circumstances may be WAY beyond my control, but my reaction doesn’t have to be.

    I’ve also used a ’24 hr. holding period’ on all drama (From toxic teacher gripes to BFF wounds) Seems if I say ‘you know my answer; give it a day’ it often diffuses (or defuses) sans all the amped up heat, hurt, and crazymaking.

    Great one, Annie; thrilled to find you via pals on Twitter, since I’m new there!

    Comment by Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth — September 1, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

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