When I think of annoying, I imagine a tiny mosquito hovering around my head in the dark as I’m trying to sleep. Apparently, the drone of a mosquito doesn’t even come close to how annoying I can be to my 14-year-old.
I know that I am not alone. Clients and friends with children around this age, give or take a few years, are clumped in the same category by their children too. Apparently it doesn’t take much to be annoying. Some of us are annoying by just being parents. This means that any time we ask our kids to make their beds, what time they are getting together with their friends, enquire if they have homework or move the hair out of their eyes, we are downright annoying! Just like the pesky mosquito, our kids want us away from their space. They just want to be left alone.
The bottom line is that our kids are very comfortable at criticizing and expressing their displeasure to us. They’re not afraid to let it all hang out, even though they’d be offended if we did the same.
Some might believe that a comment such as “you’re so annoying” shows a lack of respect but I’m more concerned about helping children understand the impact of their words and being sensitive to our feelings rather than demanding respect.
Here are some ideas to turn your exchange into a learning opportunity about better communication:
1. Tell your child how you feel by using an “I” message. This is constructed by using the words, “when you...”, “I feel...” and “because”. For example, “When you tell me I am annoying, I feel hurt because I am trying to communicate with you about something I feel is important.” An “I” message doesn’t necessarily change anything in the short-term, but it may in the long run.
2. If the time is right and the situation calm, you can (at the risk of being even more annoying), ask what it is that annoys your child so much. For example, if your child says that you are annoying when you come to wake them up in the morning, discuss options, such as an alarm clock waking them instead or your coming in only once and then letting the logical consequences kick in (such as a late slip at school).
3. If your child says that they are annoyed when you ask them so many questions, for example, enquire how else you can find out about their day (genuinely, not sarcastically). Maybe they don’t want to share the details of their day the minute they get into the car after school but are more open to sharing in bed at night (when they will likely do anything to delay bedtime). There’s no need to bend over backwards to accommodate your child’s every wish, but be open to hearing what is irritating them so much and then think about whether and how you are willing to change.
4. Suggest that instead of pointing a finger at you, they take responsibility for their feelings. Perhaps your child can say, “I feel annoyed when you ask me if I’m hungry all the time. I’d prefer to let you know when I need something to eat” rather than “you’re so annoying.”
5. Humor is a great way of diffusing tension. When I do something that I know my daughter has found annoying, I look right at her, smile and say, “I know, you’re so annoying, right?” She smiles back, nods her head and we move on.
There’s no harm in sharing how you feel, hearing how your child feels and trying to make changes. However, keep in mind that no matter how much you change, some of your behavior may still be seen as annoying because in order not to be annoying at all, you’d never be able to do or say anything parental. As parents, we have the right and responsibility to keep informed as to our children’s whereabouts and what’s going on in their lives, even if that’s horribly annoying to them. So keep talking, validating and considering changes, when appropriate, and don’t give up hope that this phase too shall pass.
Sara Dimerman has been an individual, couple and family therapist for over 20 years. She is one of North America’s most trusted parenting and relationship experts, and the author of three books: Am I A Normal Parent?, Character Is the Key and a book for couples, How can I be your Lover when I’m too Busy Being your Mother? Learn more or listen to advice from Sara and her colleagues by searching for ‘helpmesara’ podcasts on iTunes or by visiting www.helpmesara.com. Check out her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/saradimermanhelpmesara or follow Sara on Twitter @helpmesara.
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