Keeping calm is key when communicating with teens and children

Published 9:44 am Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Column: Families First, by Maryanne Law

Question: If I stay calm when my kids challenge my authority, aren’t I letting them be in control?

Answer: Kirk Martin, author of “Celebrate Calm” is probably a leading authority on the power of calm. He is clear that being calm is not being a doormat. We don’t let kids “get away” with anything. When we are in control of ourselves, we can see clearly and discipline effectively. When we are loud and upset, our kids are actually in control of us, and that never works well. When kids declare, “I don’t have to do my chores,” our typical response is to rationally point out how much we do for our kids, how we need to work together as a family, how important it is to learn the value of a good work ethic for future success. We lecture and our kids don’t listen.

Email newsletter signup

Kirk Martin describes when his son, Casey, marched into the room and declared, “I don’t have to do my chores, and you can’t make me.” Kirk sat down and replied evenly, “Hey, I’m great with that choice if that’s the way you want our home to work. I’m not going to make you do anything. As long as you understand your choices have consequences. So next time you want dinner, Mom doesn’t have to make it. Next time you just have to go to Best Buy, I don’t have to take you. Excellent.”

Casey walked away thinking, “Wow, this is cool.” The next morning, he came downstairs. “Dad, I’ve got a hockey game this morning. We have to go.” Kirk sat down and said matter-of-factly, “Casey, yesterday you chose new house rules. I don’t have to take you.”

“Dad, come on. This is my hockey game. I can’t miss this.”

“Casey, you chose this. Not me.”

Casey started getting upset. “You-have-to-take-me-now!” His face was red. Kirk could see his wife in the other room with pleading eyes. She knew what was coming. 5-4-3-2-1. A huge meltdown which actually ended with “OK, OK, I get the stupid your-choices-have-consequences thing. I’ll do all my chores after the game. Can we go now, please?”

Dad said “No.” Needless to say, it was a miserable day. Casey fumed and complained and whined the entire day. Dad endured it. He didn’t lecture, badger or justify anything. That’s a huge key. Because then came the transition. Later that day, Kirk heard Casey muttering as he walked outside and began raking the leaves. Then Kirk walked outside, grabbed a rake and started helping his son. They worked in silence together. Nothing needed to be said. Casey had learned his lesson. After awhile, Kirk said softly, “Remember when you were little and we used to jump in the leaves? Let’s make a huge pile of leaves and jump off the trampoline into them.” An hour later, father and son were wrestling in the leaves.

If you would like to talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in raising children, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Linea de Apoyo at 1-877-434-9528. For free emergency child care, call the Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599. Check out


Maryanne Law is the executive director of the Parenting Resource Center in Austin.