Goodness of Fit: Giving Up Being Right Doesn’t Make You Wrong

Sam bursts through the door after school, throws his book bag on the ground, and heads toward his room.  Mom is in the kitchen making a cup of tea when she hears Sam get home.  She hollers, “Hey kid….how was school? What is your plan for tonight?” Sam says, “I don’t know” while heading up the stairs.  Clearly Sam was upset about something.  Mom wonders…what should I do? Do I try to talk to him, wait for him to come to me, or just let it go for now.  As she stirs the honey in her tea,  her thoughts drift to how her day had gone. She had actually had a pretty rough day herself.  In fact, things at work had been going down hill for about a month. She feels emotionally exhausted, but knows that she needs to reach out to her son.

Mom begins to walk upstairs. How many different ways could this conversation go and why? Both are coming to the conversation with their own personality, thoughts, feelings, and experiences.   For years, psychologists have tried to understand what contributes to effective parenting and strong parent-child relationships.  And for years, researchers have said that this is cultivated by things like knowing what’s going on in your teens life: with whom are they spending time, what are they doing, where are they going, when will they be home, and how they’re doing.  Another component is finding the right balance of being responsiveness to them and having a structured and predictable environment.   This sounds easy enough, right?  The Goodness of Fit Model suggests that the  teen’s temperament, the parent’s temperament, and the demands and expectations of the environment are important contributors to how easy it really is. 

The Goodness of Fit Model Model suggests that a teen’s development is not based on a specific personality trait, but rather on the the way in which  their temperament, other people’s temperament, and their environment interact.  A person’s temperament is their natural style of interacting with people, places and things, whereas the environment is inclusive of all the different contexts in which people interact with one another.  These contexts include things like family, school, work, and peer groups.  A good fit is established by finding, or creating, a match in these areas: 1) the parent and the child’s temperament, (2) the parent and his/her environment, and (3) the teen and his/her environment. When this happens, parent-teen relationships are healthier and teens are happier with themselves and the world around them.  Teens have a higher self-esteem when they feel like they can successfully navigate their relationships and activities.  As you would expect, a poor match can have the opposite impact.

You have more options for how you respond to situations when you enter into them with an understanding of both you and your teen’s perspective. Giving up being right doesn’t mean you have to be wrong.  It may be that you and your teen simply approach things differently. When you are present to who your teen is and why they react the way they do,  you can avoid some of the recurring battles in your household.   Doing this goes a long way in  building trust between you and your teen, while making parenting more enjoyable!

The Goodness of Fit Model looks at two component: The behavior fit and the emotional fit.  The behavioral fit refers to the fit between the person and the environment, while the emotional fit refers to the fit between individuals.  Using the  example above, let’s look at behavioral fit.  Maybe Sam likes to keep to himself, but he shares a bedroom with his teenage brother. This can leave Sam frustrated when he wants space and his room is occupied by his brother.  When you think about emotional fit, consider whether your teen has a compatible or incompatible temperament in relation to some the people in his/her life….including yourself!  Looking at our example again, maybe the mom is really introverted and is internally processing her bad day at work, while Sam wants to talk about what he is feeling.  It is normal for it to be more challenging for you to understand a teen who has a very different temperament than you. You may even find yourself having less patience to deal with certain things because of your teen’s temperament.

Whether your temperament clashes or is compatible with your teen, you can have a big impact on the interactions you have with one another, and your level of satisfaction!  Start by recognizing the similarities and differences, and consider when you can  make adjustments in your parenting to better meet the needs of your teen.  You can also help your teen learn how to interact with people who  approach situations in different ways than themselves. Below are some additional strategies for understanding and managing “fit”:

  • Have discussions that acknowledge, but do not judge the other person’s way of interacting in the world. This will increase trust and understanding in your relationship.
  • Approach your teen with empathy and work through differences in a way that acknowledges both reactions. Giving up being right, doesn’t mean you have to be wrong.
  • Teach teens to recognize the “other” person’s perspective. This is also important because it is during this time that teens tend to be heavily focused on themselves.
  • Help your teen recognize and engage in environments that fit their personal temperament.
  • Anticipate what your teen may need in order to handle a person or an environment that is not a good fit. For example, prepare a shy teen for overcrowded events. Teens do better when they know what to expect.
  • Have realistic expectations of teens. Try to avoid putting them in situations that are counter to their temperament. This can make them feel bad about themselves and can ultimately decrease their self-esteem.
  • Acknowledge teens who have a challenging temperament. By doing this, you can recognize that teen behavior is not always a result of “bad” parenting. You alone are not fully responsible for the way your teen is or is not.
  • Engage your teen in activities that match their temperament. It can be helpful to put active teens in sports, emotionally expressive teens in music, funny teens in drama, and academic teens in math or chess club.
  • Find chores that match their temperament.  Consider having active teens mow the lawn, less active kids fold the laundry, and  emotionally expressive teens walk the dogs.

When teens learn to put themselves in situations that “fit” their temperament, they are able to feel successful in their interactions with others and the world around them!

Happy Parenting,

Raising a Teen Can Feel Like Being in an Arena with a Matador

Consider this scene

After many moves and years of hanging onto “keepsakes”, the Smiths are cleaning the basement in preparation for a garage sale. The two kids have been told that they can keep part of the profits if they help with both the preparation and sale of the items. The day before the garage sale, mom approaches her teen. “I have a couple important meetings at work today and I could really use your help finishing up the pricing of the things in the garage. When your sister wakes up, can the two of  you please try to finish that up so that we are ready for this weekend?”  Keep in mind that even though the kids have helped, mom has really done about 80% of what it has taken to get ready for the garage sale.  Her teenage daughter responds with, “Can’t we just work on it together when you get home? I am really tired and I haven’t seen my boyfriend for a week. I was planning on sleeping a little longer, catching up with some friends for lunch, and then hanging out at the pool with John for a couple hours. As you can imagine, this doesn’t go over very well. Mom is instantly annoyed, frustrated, and overwhelmed with all the  responsibilities she has that day.   At this point, mom looses it a little. She replies with, “All I am asking you to do is price a few things. With both of you working, it shouldn’t take more than an hour out of your day. I am glad to see you taking care of yourself, but it would be nice if you could contribute to the family a little more.” The teen responds with, “Maybe you should take care of yourself a little more. If you took time to get some rest and have lunch with friends, you would be a lot happier and more fun to be around!” Mom decides not want to engage in what was quickly becoming an argument. She walks away, telling her daughter she will check in with her again before she goes to work.

What comes up for you when you read this? This mom may be asking herself things like: When did my teen stop asking if she could do something and start telling me what she is doing?  How can she say such hurtful things to me? Doesn’t she understand what would happen if I  just decided to take the day off every time I needed to “take care of myself”?  Why can’t she see all the things I do for her?

Teens like the one above can be very egocentric.  To be egocentric is to think only of oneself, without regard for the feelings or desires of others.  This explains why teens see the world through their own eyes, basing choices on their personal priorities and limited experience.  As challenging as it can be for those around them, being egocentric is a necessary characteristic of identity development.  Typically, teens will move in and out of being able to see another person’s perspective, and they will practice this new skill on you!  Often times, it is not they they are trying to be mean or hurtful. Rather, they simply are not focused on how they are making you feel.

Parenting challenges us to look at situations for what they are and not take things personally.  It is in the very moments when we are tempted to lecture, ground, or holler at our teens that they need us to disengage emotionally, get grounded, and respond with thoughtfulness.  This following strategy may help:

  • Disengage: Engaging in an emotional dialogue with a teen is like being in an arena with a matador.  The matador tries to wear out the bull and the bull runs around chasing a red cape. Meanwhile, the bull gets more and more upset and exhausted.  If you are inclined to react, walk away and come back to the conversation when YOU are ready.
  • When you are ready, restate your expectation. Keep it simple and direct.
  • Describe, specifically, what needs to be done to meet that expectation.
  • Share how their contribution benefits their family or community.
  • Explain the consequences.

When you resist the temptation to get in the arena with the matador, you can be more skillful in your interactions.  Using situations like the one above as coachable moments allows you to make a positive contribution to both their sense of self and their growing understanding of who they are becoming. Sharing how their efforts make a larger contribution can help build positive self-esteem in teens. The word ‘esteem’ comes from a Latin word that means ‘to estimate’. So, self-esteem is related to how teens estimate, or regard, themselves. Experts suggest that it is through their contributions that teens develop skills and regard themselves as capable. They begin to recognize that they play an important role in reaching a larger goal.  It also helps them to be less egocentric as they begin to see how their actions impact people outside of themselves.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

Positive Parenting Tips to Build Self Esteem in Teens

Just recently, I was talking with a 16 year old teen about what it was like to be 16. He said,

There is a lot of change at 16. You know it is hard to believe I am almost 17, and that 10 months ago I was just 15….there is a very big difference between being 15 and 17! A lot has changed in my life. I have gained some good things, and some bad things. I have lost some good things and some bad things. Now, I am deciding who I want to be.

What a great way to put it!  At 15 years old, teens are just entering middle adolescence.  High school is a new experience, thinking is becoming more abstract, and opportunities for new activities (both in school and with peers) are expanding rapidly.  By 17 years old, teens are gaining more and more autonomy and developing increasing amounts of responsibility for themselves and for their choices. They may be driving, working, dating, and juggling activities and school.

This period of time is a transformative time when teens try on new styles, build new friendships, take new jobs, and engage in new activities…..all in a search for understanding who they are,  who they are becoming, and who they want to be in the future. They are living out the consequences of their choices, however negative or positive they may be.  Even though many teens are reflecting on how their choices shape their identity, lack of brain development in the frontal lobe can make it challenging for them to think deep into the future.  As parents, it is important to remember that you can facilitate increased awareness by showing empathy, asking questions, and sharing your experiences with your teen.

Teens this age can act like adults one minute and kids the next, as they actively work to integrate all the different aspects of the self.  Throughout this process, teens need parents to use positive parenting techniques that help them build self-esteem and confidence.  Positive parenting is a psychological term that is used more and more to describe a form of disciplining children and teens. It differs from the more traditional sequence of positive rewards and negative punishments by putting a bigger focus is on communication, empathy, and understanding. Positive parenting can be done in conjunction with setting limits and boundaries that match your family’s needs and values. Below are 5 positive parenting tips that can help you connect with your teen:

  • Seek understanding: Try to approach situations from their perspective. Teens like it when you try to speak their language.
  • Talk with them, not at them: This means asking lots of questions, searching for clarity, rephrasing what they say back to them.
  • Get to their level: Sit together so that your eyes can connect at the same level.
  • Separate the deed from the doer: Show teens unconditional love by addressing the behavior without being critical of them as individuals.
  • State what you would like, not what you don’t like: Try saying “Feel free to take hourly breaks to check your Facebook” instead of “Don’t get on Facebook while you are doing homework!”

There is a consistent link between self-esteem in children and these kinds of parenting characteristics. Children with high self-esteem describe their parents as encouraging independence and being accepting of who they are as individuals.