YOU hear the sound of a door being slammed.
This is followed by the thud of your 15-year-old daughter Stephanie's feet while she stamps down the hall and the crash of her backpack and books when she throws them to the floor.
It is tempting to accost her about her demeanour and tell her that crashing into the house like a rampaging elephant just isn't acceptable. But you know where that's going to go. You will be in a fight for sure.
Or you can let her know that you know exactly what she's feeling. You can tell her about when you had a bad day at school and how you handled it. This will also backfire. She will be incensed that you think you know about her world.
You could simply ignore it and hope it's just a minor tantrum and will go away. And that just might work, but maybe not.
So what do you do?
The best thing you can do in such situations is to simply describe; don't assume or lecture or try to empathize.
When you describe exactly what you saw, it's real and concrete.
When you lecture and get angry, with a tantruming teen you just add fuel to an already simmering fire; when you assume you know what she's experiencing you are not acknowledging her reality in that moment; and when you ignore the behaviour you are missing a chance to give her the support she likely needs.
So describe what you saw and let her tell you what it means.
"I heard you slam the door, stomp down the hall and throw your bag on the floor. Would you like to talk about what's happening for you?"
And she may say, "No, it's none of your business!"
If that happens you let her know that you are there for her if she wants to talk later. Meanwhile, you might offer her a snack.
You will want to talk to her about better ways to handle her temper and upset. But not now, wait until later when she has calmed down.
Learning how to describe what we see is a challenge, but a worthwhile one and works equally well with adults.
No one likes it when we assume we know what someone else is feeling.
I know I hate it when a friend says to me; "All women hate it when. . . ." If they say to me, "I hate it when .
. . how about you?" That's different.
The problem is that we often do know what's going on with our children because we have more life experience, we have been paying attention to their life and we understand their temperament, which may be similar to ours. I often think that it's actually easier to parent a teen who has a different sort of temperament from us. Then it's easier to let them be who they are and not see them reacting as we did at their age.
But no one, particularly a teen, wants to think that another person can get inside their head.
So when you talk to them, describe what you saw. Only mention the behaviours that are real and measurable.
It's easier to describe what you see when your child is acting out. But what about when he's sullen, or unusually quiet?
Again, you describe without qualifiers. So you can say, "I notice that you've been quieter than usual today. Is there something you'd like to talk about?"
When we describe what we are actually seeing without assuming we know what it means, we let our child take the lead in telling us what is happening. When we assume, they first may have to disabuse us of our incorrect read and that takes away from the conversation they may really want to have.
So describe what you are seeing and let your child tell you about his problems in his own time and in his own way.
Kathy Lynn is a parenting expert who is a professional speaker and author of Who's In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at www.parentingtoday.ca.