“My daughter was on time for school every day this past week – and I kept my job!” the mom of a 14-year-old told me.
To understand the importance of this comment, I need to go back about a month ago when the woman called me, expressing her frustration over her “always late” daughter.
“I hate my mornings! My kid wants to be on time for school but since she was young, she is always running late. We even saw an expert about it,” she said. “He advised us to prepare everything the night before so that we would be on time the next morning. We started doing that when she was little, but you know how girls can be when they have to decide what dress to wear. Nothing helped. So, we are still always late – and because she’s late, I’m late for work. I lost a couple of jobs because of it. I don’t know how long I’ll keep the job I have now. I just don’t know what to do anymore.”
This woman’s complaint is not unusual. Still, starting the day this way not only ruins the day for the child, but also for the parent since it threatens the parent’s financial stability, and mental and physical health.
So, what was the magic that turned this “always late” daughter’s behavior around?
Rewiring her brain.
Such a technique, which I like to call a formula, can not only help with getting a teen up and out the door in the morning, but can help with many other issues. Once you apply what I’m about to share with you, you could begin to see results as early as tomorrow morning!
Let’s begin by examining what and how we communicate.
What do you usually say to your teen in the morning? Is it something like: “WAKE UP! You’re going to be late! HURRY UP! Get your clothes on! YOU ARE ALWAYS LATE! We do not want to be late!”
Do you see yourself saying something similar? How effective is it?
Something you may not know is that we actually think in pictures: between 80 percent to 90 percent of the information we receive comes from images. What I discovered in my private practice is that 95 percent of the time people are not even aware that every single thought or word we use has an attached image.
These pictures are where we focus our attention. So, each word or phrase you use creates a picture in your teen’s mind and acts like a flashlight beam in a dark room. That means that wherever you focus that beam, that’s what your teen will see.
What was the focus of the conversation about trying to get your teen moving in the morning? That’s right – on being LATE! Your teen’s brain sees only LATE.
Another way to look at this is as if your words are setting the precise GPS destination for your teen’s mind. What GPS destination do you want your teen to see in the morning?
To change the focus, you say something like: “WAKE UP! You have to be on time!"
Hurry up! You said you want to be on time! It is good to be on time!”
Now, there is a much better GPS destination.
One critical key in order for this to work is that you must gain your teen’s attention first or you might be ignored. That’s why you need to know something else about HOW we communicate.
We talk with statements, commands, and questions. Statements and commands go in one ear and out the other, rarely resonating with our teens and usually resulting in miscommunication, indifference, or an eye roll.
According to studies, it’s even worse these days because we (especially our kids) are constantly bombarded by visual and auditory information from TVs, phones, computers, tablets, texts and social media. This flood entertains us, but it also keeps us virtually and visually crowded. Our attention is being pulled in several different directions as if we’re constantly dealing with many people simultaneously. This is one of the reasons that we lose an important connection with our teens.
According to a Psychology Today article, one study found that kids were so immersed in technology that they greeted their parents on arrival home from work only 30 percent of the time and completely ignored them 50 percent of the time. A 2016 report from Common Sense Media, Inc., a non-profit organization, found that of 1,200 parents and teens surveyed, 66 percent of parents think their teens spend too much time on their mobile devices and 52 percent of teens agree. Of the teens surveyed, 78 percent admitted that they check their devices at least once hourly.
What this shows is that we now need to put extra effort into capturing someone’s attention, especially if it’s someone like your teen who is being bombarded with various information from outside sources.
A brilliant scientific study in 2004 discovered that questions are what penetrate your child’s brain. The rising intonation at the end of a question activates the brain, signaling it to go into a relentless search for an answer.
In other words, we humans are hard-wired to answer a question.
While your teen may not respond verbally to your question, he or she is still absorbing your question and formulating an answer in his or her brain.
So, tomorrow morning instead of saying, “WAKE UP! You have to be on time!” ask “Do you want to be on time?”
Instead of yelling “Hurry up – put your clothes on! You said you want to be on time!’ ask, “Do you remember you said you want to be on time?”
Say “It’s great to be on time, isn’t it?” instead of saying “It’s good to be on time.”
Personally, my favorite question to ask is, “What do you need to do to be on time?”
This is a communication tool I call “Attention Guiding Questions" (AGQ).
It works fast because we instantly create a picture in the other person’s mind. Many parents have reported back that it works so well that they did not need to do anything else. No nagging, no stress! They start the day on a good note and the whole day goes well.
The impact of using AGQs is instant and you will get immediate feedback. If there is no response to your instruction with AGQ, then you did not formulate it correctly.
Asking AGQs makes your teens feel heard and respected, which makes your communication resistance-free, and helps your teens to make sound decisions.
Effectively using AGQ’s take practice. I am confident if you practice the techniques I have shared with you here, your teen will always be on time.
For more information, you can check out Want Your Teen To Listen.
About the Author: Viktoria Ter-Nikoghosyan, Ph.D., is an acclaimed international Soft Skills consultant and coach. She is a Parent-Teen Communication Mentor. For the last 13 years, she has helped hundreds of parents in 23 counties reconnect with their teens and get their full cooperation. She is the mother of three happy and successful children: two adults and one teen. She is the author of Want Your Teen to Listen? The Proven Irresistible Formula to Get Your Teen TO COOPERATE and Avoid the Wrong Crowd and Bad Choices.