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It’s an all-too common problem: everyone but your child has something or is permitted to do something except your child. Because you’re too mean. You’re too stupid. And your child hates you! Can you hear a door slamming somewhere?

Whew. What do you do? How can you know that the limits you’ve set are reasonable? And how can you keep those limits without a lot of drama?

Let’s start by noticing that some reasons for limiting your child’s activities are less valid than others. If your reasons for denying whatever it is that your child wants are unrelated to this child but are more related your own convenience, then you are indeed being unreasonable. If you’re thinking anything like

“I’m trying to put you in your place” or

“I didn’t have one at your age” or

“You have to wait until your older sibling gets one” or

“I just don’t want to be bothered by this,”

then it’s time to re-examine your thought process. Your child deserves being treated fairly. Fair reasons have a better chance of at least grudging acceptance.

More valid reasons for not letting your child do as she wants usually fall into one of four categories. And, actually, three of these four reasons are actually a Yes in disguise. Let’s take a look.

Comparative Features Issues. You have more experience, of course, so you know that what your child desires is not so good as a competing product. It might cost more, it might be less-well made, or it might support a business you dislike. It’s not that you are against the thing your child wants, it’s that you’re against the precise brand or features of the thing your child wants. So this is really a Yes. Once you and your child agree on the variation of the object, you’re ready to give your okay. So consider: is your objection a matter of taste or are there true differences that matter? Is this worth all the upset it’s causing when, in principle, the answer is Yes?

This all reminds me of “social comparison” – the idea that our worth as persons is determined by comparing ourselves to others. Kids get caught up in this but adults do too. If it’s important to you that your child have the best cell phone or the fanciest first car or the trendiest clothes, examine why you think this way. If your child seems consumed by a need to have “the best” of everything, figure out what’s driving that. We all need to remember that we are not our things and that our value is not tied to stuff. Really, it’s not.

Financial Issues. You just don’t have the money. Whatever your child wants is out of reach maybe for now, maybe forever. So this also is really a Yes, though not so strong an endorsement as before. Consider if it’s possible for your child to earn the money he needs to buy this himself. Consider if something else can be substituted. Talk frankly with your child about finances and don’t feel you have to make excuses. This is a reason that doesn’t require much discussion.

This is the time to reiterate a point I hope you’ve made a guiding tenet in your family – that money doesn’t buy happiness and that Things are unimportant in the grand scheme of life. If your family has managed to avoid consumer excesses and the drive to accumulate Stuff, then you are in a good position to help your child see that what he thinks he wants might not be important in a day or two.

Developmental Issues. Maybe the child is not old enough or capable enough for whatever it is she desires. This again is really a Yes, though it’s a Yes, Later not a Yes, Now. Consider if your perception of your child’s readiness for this experience – whatever it is – is accurate. Check around with other parents to see if they permit this for their own kids. Ultimately, you get to say at what point this wish can be fulfilled, so share with your child the point at which you and she can revisit this idea.

Values Issues. Your child has settled on a wish that is not permissible, no matter what. Your refusal has nothing to do with money or the age of your child or the particular variant your child wants. You simply don’t believe in whatever he has in mind and the answer is No. No, never. This is a perfectly reasonable response and you don’t have to apologize for it.

Keep in mind that values are not just religious or political. Your family expresses its values in the food it buys, the shops it patronizes, the organizations family members volunteer for. If you value interactions and experiences over Things, your children will be better able to resist the siren call of Stuff for Stuff’s sake. Teaching values happens in everyday occurrences like discussions about what children wish for. Teaching values is what parents do.

It is part of parenting an older child that there are these sorts of confrontations. Making certain you’re being as fair as you can be and knowing the roots of your position in any dispute will help you make the teen years calmer and more pleasant.

Your objective as a parent is to create of your children responsible and self-directed adults. Guiding your kids toward more thoughtful acquisition of things is part of this process.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

Your older child or teen is faced with lots of problems requiring solutions. Some of these are interpersonal – disputes with friends, siblings, and teachers – and some of these are situational – how to do something or fix something. Too often kids come to us for “the answer” or expect us to fix things, to intervene, to take their side. This can get tiresome.

Not only that, as a parent, you instinctively know that providing all the answers for your older kids is not a good idea. Independent decision making is a skill worth cultivating. It’s a necessary part of becoming an adult. So it’s a good idea to teach children strategies for effective problem solving.

One excellent strategy is writing things out. The cognitive psychologist Lev Vygotsky said that “writing is thinking” – that writing things down gets thinking going and helps us know what we really think. So the next time your teen or older child wants you to solve a problem for her, try one of these writing tricks.

Pro-Con Solution Comparison. You’ve probably tried this technique yourself. It works best when the question is to do or to not-do or when there’s a clear choice between two options. Suggest your child draw a line down the length of a sheet of paper. If the problem is “should I do” or “should I not-do” he writes ”Do” at the top of the space on one side of the line and “Don’t” at the top of the other. Then he writes down all the reasons to do or not-do that he can think of. (And if the choice is between two options, like “buy a bike” or “save for a car,” then he should put those at the top of the spaces and list supporting reasons for each.) Once the child has listed every reason for one or the other, he can figure out for himself which choice is better.

4-Square Solution Planner. This idea works well when the problem is not a simple choice but an issue that needs resolution. Ask your child to fold a sheet of paper into fourths, making four equal-sized spaces. In the top left space, she writes down the problem, including who or what is involved, when the problem surfaces, and why it’s an issue for her. In the top right space, she lists the possible causes of the problem, including the perspectives of others who may be involved. In the lower left space, she should write possible solutions to the problem, what she can do to make herself more comfortable with the situation or to come to agreement with others. Finally, in the lower right space, she should write a statement of what she is going to try from the solutions she’s come up with and what she expects will happen.

A How-To For Others. Most of us find it’s easier to solve other people’s problems than to solve our own and this technique capitalizes on this. In it, your child imagines that this problem is not his alone but one that is shared by lots of kids his age. He takes on the role of an advice columnist or poster on a how-to website. He starts by writing down an imaginary query from a reader. Then he answers the problem by suggesting steps this imaginary person can take or things the reader should try. I know of one child who was beset with problems from her younger brothers who wrote just this sort of entry for an online wiki and submitted it for posting. Your child can do this too!

A Letter To No One. This last technique involves more actual writing than the others but is a time-tested way for sorting things out. It’s the classic “dear diary” sort of writing essay. Suggest that your child write a letter – one that will never be sent! – to the person who is causing her difficulty or to her grandmother or other advisor, even to God. The idea here is to write and write, about the problem, about her feelings about the problem, and about what she’s already tried to solve the problem. Finally, she should write about what she’s going to try next. This letter is then tucked away in a safe place, to be looked at later.

For each of these methods, there’s a temptation to force the process, making it an assignment instead of a personal quest for ideas. It’s important to let the child do his own thinking. So if your child prefers to dictate his writing to you, make certain you act simply as a recorder, not as an advisor or editor.

Actually recording the thinking (into a tape recorder or webcam) can work too, but there’s something about the slow pace of writing that gives new ideas a chance to surface. In addition, it’s easier to review one’s writing to find a key idea that tumbled out than it is to find it in a tape or video. Actually writing is best but talking things out works too, if that’s easier for your child to do.

The big deal here lies in guiding teens and older kids in understanding their own thinking and in coming up with their own solutions to their problems. These strategies are worth trying. And, best of all, they work for us grownups too!

Airbus A320 is one of the most popular air liners of our time. The Russian air carrier Aeroflot in its fleet contains 60 units of this model. Let’s take a closer look at the diagrams of the Airbus A320 salons available on the Aeroflot website:

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

Do you keep a journal? If you ever have, you know that writing down what you’re thinking is a great way to figure things out. And no one needs to figure things out more than a teenage child.

Writing is thinking. Even if you don’t know what you think when you first put pen to paper, by the time you finish you’ve discovered what you know. Writing taps into the subconscious mind and reveals even to the writer ideas that were hidden. At times when a person doesn’t know what to think, writing is one way to find out.

And writing is history. Being able to look back and notice what was bothering you and then realizing that that’s been solved, makes today’s problems seem solvable too. Looking back and noticing that today’s problem has been a problem for a long time helps you finally take action to resolve this issue once and for all.

So encouraging your teen to keep a journal is a good thing to do. And now, during the summer, is a great time to do it. The question is, how?

If your teen already likes to write, just buying her a nice notebook and a set of gel pens might be all the inspiration your kid needs. The unchangeable quality of paper and pencil helps keep entries from being rewritten later and so preserves the journal as a record of the past. On the other hand, if your teen is most comfortable writing on computer, so that thoughts flow more quickly with a keyboard than a pen, then helping her set up a password-protected file might give her the inspiration to start.

If your teen doesn’t like to write, then start, not with a journal, but with a decision sheet. The next time your teen faces a tough decision, help him list the good and bad aspects of each choice. Just writing them down helps to make things clearer.

Or suggest your teen make a daily agenda – a list of things to do. These agendas accumulate to make a record of the entire summer. Along the way, having a daily list of things to do helps a teen to organize his time and have clear goals.

You can also model keeping your own journal, making a point of writing a few notes at the end of the day every day or creating your own daily agenda.

The most important point is that your teen’s journal, diary, agendas, and decision sheets are private. They are for his eyes only, not yours. Do not even think about peeking, no matter how good a reason you might have.

Keeping a journal or diary can help your teen sort out his thinking and give a shape to the summer. Now is a good time to give that a try.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.