Have a Question? Need Parenting Advice? Ask Michael Hawton

Sports psychologists use a common phrase when working with their sports stars – Control the controllables. They say that a sportsperson can control their EAR – effort, attitude and their response to a problem. Here’s a short clip of a sports coach talking about this.


When it comes to managing a problem with your child or teenager where he or she has ‘crossed the line’, you can control what you’re going to say and how you are going to say it and what attitude you will take into the conversation you’re going to have with them.  You can control what you’re going to say and you will be able to do this better if you have a plan and if you follow a process –  keeping to the facts of the matter and eventually by clearly asking for what you want from them, next time.

Going into any conversation with your son or daughter, you’ll do better if you can remember two things: Your acknowledgement of their feelings (if they get upset with you) is not your agreement with their feelings and, you don’t have to show up for every argument to which you’ve been invited!

You can also improve your performance in a conversation like this by imagining how you are going to react, before you actually have the conversation. In other words, this is when you picture yourself in a tough conversation and imagining how you’ll react. For example:

  • Imagine where you are going to be sitting when you’re having the conversation. In fact, I suggest that you actually sit there and imagine starting the conversation.
  • Think how your teenager might be, what they’ll look like (probably grumpy) and how you’ll respond if they get uppity with you.
  • Imagine yourself staying calm but firm and insisting on what you need while also giving ground where you need to.
  • Notice any negative or angry reactions you might be feeling and think about how you would restrain these.
  • Visualise yourself responding if they get upset.

Just a little bit of written preparation and some visualising can go a long way towards helping you remain composed. To sum up, here are the three controllables you can focus on when you are going to hold a tough conversation:

  1. You can control the attitude you take into the conversation. You can make a decision to go into the situation with courage and firmness. You don’t need to fight.
  1. You can control the script of what you are going to say, which will enable you to be well prepared to solve the problem. If your teenager gets upset, you can acknowledge what they are feeling to get the conversation back on track.
  1. You can control what you imagine and how you see yourself coping in the conversation — even before you have it. In other words, you can visualise success!


Controllables Uncontrollables
The attitude you take into the conversation Your teenager’s attitude or sense of entitlement
Your written script The topic
What you visualise yourself doing Your teenager’s reactions or their friends’ views

Some other points to remember:

  • Decide that you will not lose your temper or retaliate. If it goes badly just stop the conversation.
  • Don’t blame your teenager for attempting to upset you – just expect it – and manage it.
  • Relax, and let go of the idea that you have to get it exactly right.

Michael Hawton’s Engaging Adolescents book is released on 1st May. Click here to order your copy.


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