Q: “My son (13 almost 14) often has a scowl on his face for no reason. I assume he is grump mode. I could be talking, reading scripture, or just driving with him. I ask “What’s wrong?” or say “Why are you having attitude?” Then he lashes out “Uh! MOM!….” I am likely to blame here for assuming. I know I have a furrowed brow when in deep thought. I feel like I am overreaching his attitude, trying too hard to “fix” and direct him at times. But then I am not sure.
Another issue is the tone in which he speaks to me. The same goes for my 12.5 twin girls. I feel they sound disrespectful but when I call them on it, they are quite astonished that I felt that way at all. I have been telling them “Look, if I feel you are, then you are. You need to realize that how others perceive your tone and words are important and you need to adjust accordingly.” At the moment, I am working on my own heart as well, to not be as hyper-sensitive emotionally, etc. I am also working on my tone. Likely they received a lot of that from me! Any suggestions?
Shoot from the hip here or at the heart. I am looking for strong truth. Thank you Jess…”
A: When there’s a tone issue, sometimes our children don’t hear it. But tone IS one of those subjective things, where what the hearer HEARS, matters. So I would probe for what they were meaning, and then coach for this.
“You can say the same words two different ways but have it come out completely different each way. When you say XYZXYZ like this: (imitate the tone the way you’re hearing it) — it sounds like you are scolding me or angry (or sounds like you are grumpy/fussy, or sounds like you are thinking “I AM SO BORED AND SO SICK OF BEING HERE I COULD DIIIIIIIIIIIIIE” or whatever). But then if you say it like this: XYZXYZ (say it the way you’d like to hear it), it sounds the way you said you meant it. Would you try saying it that way please?”
And then wait for them to say it.
OFFER A DO-OVER, WITH A SIMPLE PHRASE LIKE “WANNA TRY THAT AGAIN?”
Sometimes our teens speak before thinking. (And we do too!) One of the ways we can offer grace is to offer do-overs. When they obviously blow it in tone or words, one way we can help them is to offer a chance for them to immediately re-frame their comment.
- “Wanna try that again?”
- “Hmmm… need a do over for that one?”
This gives them a non-combative way to actively try again and take on the right attitude that everyone in the room knows they need. Obviously this won’t always work, but for the teen who says something, and then realizes it was “too far,” it’s a way we can offer them the chance to make it right without a bunch of drama and time.
ASK OTHER PEOPLE FOR THEIR ASSESSMENT
Since you said that you are possibly hyper-sensitive, I would definitely ask for an outside opinion on this. Is your husband around to hear these things? Or a close friend or your mom? Someone who your kids are comfortable enough around that they act the same way and you could get a more accurate “read” from an outsider (or rather, a less potentially-emotionally-biased person than you) on whether or not it sounds rude to them?
That’s what I would suggest.
ASK QUESTIONS TO ASSESS WORDS & TONE
It’s such a delicate balance, knowing when we are being over-sensitive or when we are rightly assessing, but another thing I thought of– when you project things forward, it is helpful. Put it in different situations. Consider:
- Would it be OK for him/her to one day respond to a boss this way?
- Or is this a good tone to use toward his/her spouse one day?
- Is this a good response if the Pastor or their Grandma was the one asking them this question?
Thinking through questions like these sometimes helps me sort out the root of whether or not something is acceptable/good or not.
And yeah… it definitely makes a difference to be coaching these pre-teens and teens and realizing how much I notice in them that I need to work on myself. There are so many times when they are mirrors that hold up to me the ugly things they’ve seen in my responses and tone. Eeeeeek! Definitely a way that God keeps us growing & humble, eh?
GIVE TIME FOR GRACE & TRUTH TO DO HEART WORK
The other thing I would say… that I’m just beginning to learn with my older sons… is that TIME is a great way we can give grace. Sometimes I’m so quick to jump on their attitudes (even when it’s blatant disrespect) and then feel pessimistic… like, “he’s never going to get it! Nothing ever changes with him”… but then he comes up, 15 minutes after my rebuke/response, and asks for forgiveness.
So I guess my final word to you (and to me!) is to not lose hope. Our hope is NOT in:
- US always having the exact right response/rebuke
- THEM always having the exact right response/attitude
Nope. Our hope is in GOD. He:
- loves them more than we do
- is big and strong enough to use, water, and grow the seeds we’ve planted all along
- is at work in their hearts in ways we can’t see
- ALWAYS finishes the work He starts.
We can entrust these teens, and their tones, to our GOOD God who knows us completely, and knows them completely, and who loved us all while we were yet sinners.
He’s good and big enough to do heart work that we never could.