When your teenager begins to escalate after you have followed through with a consequence, or they if they begin to argue with you after you have said “no” to a request, you’ll want to use “the neutral stance” in response. The neutral stance is not passive. Rather it is the result of your active decision not to involve yourself in your child’s misbehavior. You remain calm and unwavering as your child escalates in an attempt to engage you in a power struggle. You do not let emotions guide you. Instead, you go about your routine, refusing to give in to your child’s demands and offering no explanations, alternatives, or idle threats. You enact consequences and follow through without demonstrating frustration or anger and without feeling guilt. In this way you model responsible adult behavior and you place the responsibility for the consequences right where it belongs-squarely on the child’s shoulders. You do not muddy the waters by expressing your frustration or anger (by yelling, threatening, or giving in), because to do so takes the emphasis off the child’s responsibility and puts it on you.
When parents retaliate, the child isn’t reaping the rewards of his misbehavior, he’s being punished by angry parents who’ve lost their tempers and are now exercising their own brand of tyranny. That’s exactly how it looks when parents lose control and stoop to using the same behavior as their children. You can avoid this vicious cycle of escalating tempers by teaching yourself to use the neutral stance. It is simple and effective and here’s how it works.
Adopting the Neutral Stance
When you have implemented a consequence and your child escalates in order to convince you to change your mind, do the following:
- Put a “befuddled” expression on your face.
- Look at the child without anger or irritation. You’re confused. The child did action “A” and you followed with consequence “B.” You do not understand what the problem is.
- Say nothing (Ignore). You do not need to explain anything. Your child knows what happened and needs to consider the behavior and consequences on his own.
- Go about your life … make dinner, do whatever you planned to do.
- Maintain your air of neutrality. Don’t seek revenge or retribution for your child’s behavior. The child is experiencing the consequences of the behavior. Let it go at that.
From Whining by Audrey Ricker (Fireside 2000).
Either or Choice
If the child will not stop following you, whining and arguing about the decision and is making it impossible for you to ignore, he is infringing on your rights, and it is time to give the “either-or choice”. You could say in a calm, respectful tone “I have made my decision, and you can either accept it and stop arguing with me, or you can go to your room until you are able to accept it.”
If your child refuses, that is Not-Minding, which for teens is met with a logical consequence such as restriction from friends for a weekend, or no social activities for the next week to work on the respectful treatment of family.
If the teen is not arguing but truly only desires to give more information that might affect a decision you have made, you could teach your child the “appeals process”. The “appeals process” is a communication tool that is extremely valuable in helping to prevent heated conflict and teach children a proper and respectful way to work with authority. The teen may, in a calm tone of voice, ask “May I appeal? I have some more information.” Then you can allow them to state the new information, or new reason why they would like to do that activity. You then discuss it with your spouse and return to the teen with the final decision. Explain to them that the final decision is final. If the child argues with the decision after the appeals process, then that is disobedience and there should be consequences. One of the consequences is the loss of the appeals privilege for a set amount of time.