Ah, parenting—a truly profound, wonderful, and challenging adventure. If only there was a foolproof guide for not only raising kids well, but building and maintaining a strong relationship with them as they age. While no such guide exists, Laurie Thomas insists that there is one primary key to getting along with your kids, even as they become hard-to-manage teens: be a rational adult.

Thomas, author of Don’t Feed the Narcissists! The Mythology and Science of Mental Health, says it’s important you set positive examples, teach them necessary skills, and settle conflicts in an effective manner.

Set Positive Examples

Thomas explains the importance of setting positive examples and serving as a good role model for your children. Furthermore, she says it’s crucial you consider your child’s age and stage of development in making parenting decisions. “When a child is an infant, the parents gets to make all of the decisions. As the child becomes a toddler, the child is suddenly faced with choices,” she explains. “As a result, toddlers have to figure out what they want and how to get what they want. If they don’t get what they want, they feel anger. Anger is the emotion that you feel when someone or something will not let you have what you want. Toddlers often do not really know what they want. Also, they have poor problem-solving skills, so they do not know how to get what they want. As a result, their anger often boils over into a tantrum.”

Temper tantrums are normal at this age, but as a child ages and matures, they learn more effective strategies for dealing with frustrations. Thomas further explains this process: “As we grow up, we learn better ways to solve problems and subsequently become less prone to anger. Also, we are supposed to learn better ways to manage our anger. As a result, we are supposed to be less prone to throwing tantrums. Unfortunately, many adults, including many parents, throw tantrums like two-year-olds. Be the adult. Be a model of self-control. In short, be cool. Kids respect cool.”

Teach Interpersonal and Problem-Solving Skills

Remember: the key to getting along with your kids is to be a rational adult. And in order to do that, you must see their behavior for what it really is—oftentimes, a teen makes a bad or irresponsible decision because they aren’t equipped with the skills to make the right choice. Now, instead of punishing your child, you should take this opportunity to teach them the skills they lack. Doing so will result in a better outcome and improve your relationship with your child, as explained by Thomas:

“When teens rebel, they are really just making choices that their parents do not like. Sometimes, a pre-teen or teen makes bad choices because he or she has poor interpersonal skills and poor problem-skills. Unfortunately, many parents see the child as bad rather than as unskilled. As a result, they punish the child for making mistakes. The child may then feel that his or her parents are the enemy. This is the underlying cause of oppositional defiant disorder. The solution to this problem is to teach the child the skills that he or she lacks. Teach the child how to read facial expressions, and help the child understand how other people think, and why they react the way they do. Teach the child how to organize things, and how to get things done. As a result, the child will have fewer conflicts with you and with other people.”

Settle Conflicts: Listen and Negotiate

The last piece of the puzzle is to settle conflicts with your child by first understanding why they’ve behaved in a certain manner. “Often, teens make choices that are not dangerous but are simply different from what the parent would choose,” Thomas says. “In these situations, the teen may be trying to solve problems that the parent does not understand. The teen may be trying to become more popular, or at least to avoid being the target of bullying. Or the teen may simply be trying to express his or her own personality to defend his or her own dignity.”

Instead of choosing to argue with your child about his or her behavior, listen to their concerns and then decide on the right path to take together. “If you pick a fight over something like this, your child will rightly view you as a bully,” Thomas explains. “The key here is to listen to the child and find out his or her concerns. Often, these conflicts can be settled by negotiation. Negotiation means an attempt to find a mutually acceptable solution to a conflict. Parents have control over so many things that children want. As a result, parents have enormous leverage when it comes to negotiation. By using negotiation, you can solve many conflicts. You can also teach your child important lessons about how to solve problems and how to make and keep promises.”

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