Quote of the Week

"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way" ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Who is the big dog at your house? Featured technique: use of "NOW"
Posted by:Lloyd Woodward--Thursday, March 25, 2010

While we have no magic words in Parenting Skills, we do have words when used with a certain approach, can work like magic. Consider the word "NOW." If we mean it when we say it and if we are prepared to remain in our teenager's face when we say it (without yelling about it) we can see a dramatic shifting of power.

Here's the basic idea: if we can do something to get our teenager's behavior where we want it, without punishing and without bribery or inappropriate rewarding, then we are way ahead of the Who's In Charge Game.

For example, your teenager has dirty dishes in his room. You have asked him over and over again to bring the dishes down and it's always the same response: "OK, in a minute." But the minute never comes. As a parent you are getting angrier and angrier and you fear that bugs or rodents might make a move on your teenager's room and of course infest the whole house.

Of course, you can threaten to take his cell phone or his Halo video game if he doesn't clean up his room but then you are into punishment. Of course, we sometimes need punishment in order to hold our teenagers accountable; however, it is much better if we can hold our teenager's accountable without punishment. One way to do this is by saying and meaning the word NOW.

So, how does it work? When you spot the dishes and glasses in his room walk in and confront him by saying something like this:

Dad: Son, I need these dishes and glasses carried downstairs.

Son: I'll get it later Dad, I'm busy playing this game [substitute watching this show or texting this girl].

Dad: [Dad moves in closer to his son so that he is about a foot away but he keeps his voice low and calm and he has good strong eye-contact] Not later Son; I need you to do it now.

Son: I said I was busy Dad I'll get it in a minute![Son is getting a tad louder at this point]

Dad: Regardless, Son I need this carried down now. [Dad is using strong eye contact and now he is narrowing the gap, only about 10 inches from his son now and as he leans in to confront his son you can feel the power. When we did the role-play in group we could all feel the power. You might call it the Power of Command.]

At this point Dad is committed. He must stick with it until the dishes are carried downstairs. He has invoked the sacred word, "NOW" and if he invokes this word and then does not see the task through, then the word may never work the same for him again. It's magic will wane.

Therefore, DO NOT USE THIS WORD unless you really mean it and are prepared to drop everything and stay with your teenager until task is accomplished. No threats are necessary and in fact, threatening at this point might be counter-productive and cause unnecessary resentment.

Threats are overkill. Likewise, once a teenager carries the dishes and glasses downstairs do not follow that up with a lecture or with a punishment. It does not help at that point to say, "See wasn't that easy, don't you wish that you just did that on you own without me having to point it out." That' s sort of rubbing the teenagers' nose in it if you will, and it is now much more gracious to say, "Thanks Son, I appreciate that." Once the teenager has carried the stuff downstairs you are free to give him some positive verbal reinforcement.

The reason that threats and punishments are not necessary is that the Dad has one huge advantage over the teenager. The teenager really really wants the Dad to go away so that he can resume his texting, TV watching, or game playing. Dad, on the other hand has nothing better to do at the moment except stand there and get close to his son's face and keep repeating:

Dad: I want that carried downstairs now Son.
Son: Why? Give me one good reason that crap has to be carried down now.

TRAP ALERT: Yes you have a million good reasons for wanting that stuff carried down right now but don't give him anything other than that's just the way you want it done. That's it. Otherwise, he will debate you endlessly and probably win.

Dad: I need you to carry that stuff down now Son. It's time for carrying not for asking questions.

Son: Give me one good reason why now?

Dad: You need to move that stuff now Son- that's the reason.

Son: That's not a reason.

Dad: Nevertheless, you need to carry these plates and glasses down to the kitchen now, Son.

A parent tried this technique recently and it worked brilliantly for him. He used it with the glasses and plates and food accumulating in his teenagers room, other chores like garbage that needed taken out, and even having some of his clothes returned that the teenager had "borrowed." Teenagers will usually comply with the demand for "NOW" once they realize that the parent is not going away until the task is completed.

Another benefit: using the NOW word and having your teenager comply means that you are the dominant in-charge adult at your house. Now your teen will have accepted that. The more you do this kind of thing the more you establish yourself as the boss. This means that you now speak with the voice of someone who is in charge. More important issues like curfew, drug abuse, hanging with old friends, and disrespectful behaviors are going to be easier to approach because you now speak with the voice of authority. Does that mean these issues won't come up? Of course not. These issues will continue to come up but now you as a parent have the dominant stance and that's going to give you the edge. You are the big dog.

Consider the other way: You nag nag nag your teenager to bring those cups downstairs. He says "OK later," but he never does it. The dishes stack up until one of two things happen. Either all your dishes are now in your teenager's bedroom or you go in and take them downstairs for him. Either way, he is in the dominant position of power and you are in the submissive position. Now you get bigger issues such as curfew, drug abuse, and hanging with old friends.

You tell him that he better straighten up and fly right. Why should he listen to you? You're the same parent who was not strong enough to get him to bring his dishes downstairs so there is no way he is going to come in when you say. He is the big dog of the house now and he knows it.

Who ever said "don't sweat the small stuff" wasn't working with defiant teenagers. It's important to sweat some, but not all, of the small stuff. It keeps you eating out of the big dog dish so to speak.

So get between your teenager and the TV he is watching. Take the cell phone he is texting on if that is going to get his attention. Stay with him until he gets off his butt and takes that garbage out. Sooner or later he will do those things just because he doesn't want you to pull the do it now thing on him and that's when you know two things. One: you are the one in charge. And two: you are teaching your teenager responsibility.

I'm going to write more about other ways to keep your dominant position of power in the next continuing post. Stay tuned for Who is the big dog part-two.

If you've tried this and it's worked for you-please leave us a comment about it.


Anonymous said...

Such a great idea......I will use it right NOW!
Thanks for all of the meaningful techniques that I for one really appreciate.

Sally said...

This is a very good post. It is informative, interesting and funny. It is so true that you need to 'follow thru' with this tactic. Once you get in to telling a teen to "do it now" you must get them to obey for if they don't you have lost your ground. I will definitely use this technique on days when I am sure I feel tough enough to follow thru. Our son is in placement at the moment so I have decided to use this time to learn my lessons well. I am looking forward to an additional post of Being the Big Dog.

Anonymous said...

The dog picture is so good. Like the saying goes.... a picture tells a thousand words. To me the little rust colored dog with the narrow eyes is the parent. I think he should be called Teny (short for tenacity since he shows so much courage. And of course the big wrinkly, PSST teenage dog can be called Audy....since he is bold and we are learning to restrain him. OHYEA!! The little dog can definitely be in charge and eat out of the big dog dish.


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