Effectively Managing a Teen Who’s Breaking the Rules

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Doctor Neha:  Hi. Welcome to Talk Rx with Doctor Neha. Today I have a special guest, Suzette, which is one of the people who was in one of my talks. I offered that if anyone in the audience had a question and would like to come on live on Talk Rx that they could join me. Welcome Suzette.

Suzette:  Thank you. Good morning. Nice to be here.

Doctor Neha:  You said this is something you’ve never done before so it feels a little awkward.

Suzette:  Yes.

Doctor Neha:  Yes. Where do you feel that in your body?

Suzette:  My stomach probably.

Doctor Neha:  What does your stomach feel like?

Suzette:  Probably, it’s going like this …

Doctor Neha:  Like a turning.

Suzette:  Yes.

Doctor Neha:  So what got you to say yes then? What got you to say, “I’m going to try this. I’m going to take a risk and do it anyway”?

Suzette:  I just have an issue that I have worked so hard to try to solve. I have been unsuccessful. I’m going to try anything.

Doctor Neha:  Here we go.

Suzette:  I was very impressed by your talk.

Doctor Neha:  Oh, thank you. What’s the question?

Suzette:  I am a high school teacher. I have a student this year. We have had difficulties. We don’t seem to be able to communicate. Anyway, it’s based on that.

Doctor Neha:  Okay. Great. Tell me a little bit about the dynamics. How do you feel challenged? What’s happening so maybe I can help you with some communication tools?

Suzette:  I’ve had quite a few one-on-one conversations with him, which I always do. I don’t handle things in front of the class. I’ll pull him aside and just say … The big challenges for me are he interrupts me. He’ll just blurt things out without raising his hand. Everyone is asked to be seated when the second bell has rung. He’s still standing up. He just does little things all the time to …

Doctor Neha:  Kind of get your goat?

Suzette:  Yes. The talks that I’ve had with him have not worked. It’s really the first time where I feel as if I haven’t been able to reach a student. This …

Doctor Neha:  What has been your strategy in the past to reaching students? I’m sure you’ve been teaching for a little while, yeah?

Suzette:  Eighteen years.

Doctor Neha:  Eighteen years. You have a lot of seasoned experience here. There’s something different about this interaction.

Suzette:  Absolutely. I think … I mean, I always thought I tried to treat students with respect. I genuinely like them. I think knowing that they care about you is helpful. That you care about them. Excuse me. I think that handling things one-on-one so you don’t embarrass them in front of their peers. These … Just little things. I’ve learned to paraphrase. I’ll say “So, you’re feeling this …” It hasn’t … Nothing has worked. The problems are still happening. They don’t happen every day. If we’re doing something that he finds engaging. Simulations. He’s very kinesthetic. You can’t do a [inaudible 00:02:56] simulation game about the economy every day. That means there are lectures. Sometimes you’re reading. Sometimes you’re having a class discussion. You can’t just blurt things out all the time. From my perspective, it’s very disruptive. From his perspective, he thinks that I’m picking on him. That I’m too strict. That I’m making a big deal out of …

Doctor Neha:  Nothing.

Suzette:  Nothing. Yes.

Doctor Neha:  Okay. So many things are happening. Let’s start … I will get to him and how you can change this. Right? How you can show up. Tell me, for you growing up, what were the rules around roles?

Suzette:  Around rules? You followed them.

Doctor Neha:  You followed them.

Suzette:  There wasn’t any discussion.

Doctor Neha:  Yeah. If you didn’t, what happened?

Suzette:  I had my mouth washed out with soap one time.

Doctor Neha:  You had your mouth what?

Suzette:  Washed out with soap one time. That was it.

Doctor Neha:  Done. I would never cross that line again. You learned to be a good girl. There were consequences if you didn’t. That’s a lesson that you learned really early. As you went into school, you learned that when people were acting up, this is what I heard, if kids were acting up, if you got to their heart and you built a bridge, like an invisible bridge from your heart to theirs, somehow it would all soften. They would start to follow the rules. You didn’t wash their mouth out with soap. You’re like, I’m going to take a different strategy, which is, I’m going to love you into following these rules, which is an amazing strategy. It also fulfills you. It gives you connection while it’s happening. It’s amazing.

                        What’s happening now is, I often say that the people we struggle with the most are our greatest teachers. The question becomes, what has this beautiful soul come to teach you?

Suzette:  Oh, yeah! Interesting.

Doctor Neha:  What would be the first thing that came to your mind? What has he come to teach you?

Suzette:  Patience I think. Maybe not to take it personally. I’ve spoken to other teachers of his. There are similar behavioral patterns.

Doctor Neha:  Also, flexibility. There’s a little bit of flexibility here, right?

Suzette:  I have been. For me.

Doctor Neha:  It sounds like you’ve been trying. You care so much. This kid is telling you, “You cannot love your way to me.”

Suzette:  Definitely. That’s true.

Doctor Neha:  This is interesting because another really important piece is that when someone wants or needs attention, maybe not even in your classroom, but maybe in your life, they’ll also even take negative attention. Do you know what I’m saying?

Suzette:  Yes. It’s very attention seeking behavior. Absolutely.

Doctor Neha:  There is some need that’s not being met on a sit in your seat and don’t interrupt me level. There’s this part that is like, I would guess that this person wants to be seen but it’s not by you being kind to this person. It’s more about honoring who this person is, how they learn, asking for their opinion. I think that this person, in the very little amount that I know about him, is trying to differentiate himself in the world. What he does not want to hear is “Be like everybody else.” Do you know what I’m saying? Is this guy somebody who’s like a little bit eccentric? Wants to be different? In fact, his soul values uniqueness and difference.

Suzette:  Yes. That’s a good point. Yes.

Doctor Neha:  What you’re saying to him is, “Sit down and be like everybody else.” He’s saying, “That’s not who my soul is.” I’m wondering if a conversation with him … I’m just going to have it like I’m having a conversation with you. Can we just do a little role-play?

Suzette:  Sure.

Doctor Neha:  Okay. You would be the one in class interrupting me, kind of not in your seat, like connecting. I’m going to be you. I’d say, “Hey Suzette, I’ve realized … I went away this weekend to an incredible workshop where I learned some communication skills that will help me, I believe, help me show up and create a different relationship to you. I realized I was showing up in a way that wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t working for you. Would you be willing to spend 10 minutes where I can share with you what I learned and hopefully help us create an even stronger connection. Would you be up for that?”

Suzette:  Sure.

Doctor Neha:  Yeah? When’s a good time for you?

Suzette:  I can come in after school today.

Doctor Neha:  Great. Now it’s after school. We’re together. I’d say, “Suzette, I just want to say thank you. This is not the first time I’ve asked you to talk. Even though I’m the teacher and you’re the student and there’s a level of power and hierarchy which is you probably can’t say no, what I want you to know is, I really appreciate you being here. In the 18 years that I’ve been teaching, I normally can show people that I really love and care about them. It usually helps us build this connection where I can get them to follow the rules. What I’ve learned in meeting you is it’s helping me grow as a person. What I realize is how much you value your uniqueness, your creative way that you learn, the creative and inspired way that you engage, which sometimes comes across to me as interrupting or not listening. I think maybe I wasn’t really valuing how you learn, how you engage and how you show up. You really value being with the group, but also standing out as being different. Would that be true?”

Suzette:  Yes. Definitely. Definitely.

Doctor Neha:  How can we work together where I can support your uniqueness and you can help me support the group learning and moving together. I want to learn patience and flexibility. What could you help me with so that we could kind of build this win-win situation?

Suzette:  I could raise my hand more when I want to speak. Let other people in the room speak instead of blurting out answers quickly.

Doctor Neha:  Can you teach me something cool? What could be a gesture that you would know that I’m not reprimanding you or getting upset or whatever? I’m sure even though I don’t say it in front of everybody, you might feel it in my tone or my body language or I might wince. Is there a cool way that I can signal you to say, “It’s that thing. Like that thing. As we work through this, we’re not going to be perfect. We’re just trying something new. Is there a way?” I often have people, like some people like a timeout. Some people like … They don’t like that. That feels really abrasive. They like a little peace sign or a little sign, whatever it is where nobody really knows but you two know. Is there a way that we can kind of signal each other when we notice that our body is giving us these signals? Like our heart racing or our stomach turning like that moment? Can we reconvene in a week and see how it’s going?

Suzette:  Yes. That sounds great.

Doctor Neha:  I’d love feedback too. I really want to learn to be more flexible and patient and all of these things. I want you to know this isn’t a one-way learning. I don’t want it to be that only I’m the teacher and you are the student. You’re almost a grown man. You’re going out into the world. I really want to be someone in your life who partners with you, not resists you.

Suzette:  Wow! Thank you very much. I appreciate that.

Doctor Neha:  Would you feel heard?

Suzette:  Yes. Yes.

Doctor Neha:  Would that be different than the conversations you have been having?

Suzette:  Yes. I’ve had maybe 10% of that, or I’ve tried. It’s … Anyway. No, I think that would be effective.

Doctor Neha:  I’ll give you the audio immediately of what we have so that you can use it to kind of construct this conversation sooner than later. What were your take aways?

Suzette:  I think that … I guess I’ve just been caught up in this old school the world expects you to have manners and to … These are just sort of conventional expectations. I’m not the only teacher who has had struggles.

Doctor Neha:  Then a bunch of teachers get together in the conference room lounge. They all talk about how they’re all right. Can you believe how kids these days?

Suzette:  Right. I feel as if I’m not that bad, but I’ve certainly been guilty of that in this case.

Doctor Neha:  I hear your creativity. That’s what I hear. I hear a woman who has the structure of being a teacher. It has worked for so long. It’s worked well. Then you come to this place where it’s like your next level of how do I become creative. You’re curious about that. That’s really what I heard. There’s the part of me that’s old school. I’m an old school doctor. I think this is the way it should be. If I tell someone something they should listen to me. I gave them a prescription for whatever it should be. Then there’s the part of me that’s the entrepreneur. What I’m hearing you say in the patience and all of this growth that’s happening for you is, you’re just growing into Suzette version 2.0. It’s the next level.

Suzette:  Yes. You know, you have to adapt and be flexible. I guess I just feel as if I don’t want to send students out of my room with an expectation that everything’s negotiable with bosses and coaches and teachers. I don’t think that’s realistic.

Doctor Neha:  You can ask him. I think I haven’t been hearing you. I think I’ve been set with my agenda. Tell me what it is that you want me to know. If I really know you, what would I know? Have him start with the conversation, “If you really knew me, you would know …” Listen underneath. I have a 5 levels of listening recording that is really going to help you. It’s listening, not just for the words somebody is saying, but listening underneath for their emotion, but listening even deeper for what they value. Whatever he says to you, just listen on that level. Instead of being certain that he must follow the rules, he just has a different path there. It’s not through you showering him with love or trying to discipline him. The question is, what is the path there?

Suzette:  I need to figure that out. I need to work with him to do it.

Doctor Neha:  Yeah. You just want to get curious. Who is this beautiful soul in front of me? What have you come to teach me about how that day when I got my mouth washed out with soap, I believed that there was no deviation. That serves you. It doesn’t serve you when … weakness is just a strength overused. A weakness is just a strength overused. Where could your structure and strength as 18 years of experience as a teacher use a little flexibility and patience?

Suzette:  Right. This is great. I really do like him. I have moments where I’m just pulling my hair out when class is over. I really care about him. I do worry and think “Oh my gosh. I …”

Doctor Neha:  How can I help this guy?

Suzette:  Right. Now I realize that he’s also there to help me. I think that … This is great. It’s never too late even though the school year is almost over. I really don’t … I think that’s why I’ve been so troubled. I don’t want the school year to end like this.

Doctor Neha:  Start your conversation that way.

Suzette:  I don’t like that.

Doctor Neha:  I have this sense of running out of time but I know that it’s not running out of time. Your life has just begun. If there’s any way that I can show up and impact it in a way that would be beneficial to you, I have done my job. Yeah?

Suzette:  I think it’s true when people are … When they really care about getting to know us, we’re more likely to want to do what they’re asking us to do anyway. That’s … I thought I was doing that. I think what I’m realizing now is that I really haven’t been.

Doctor Neha:  Mm-hmm (affirmative). Here we go. Version 2.0

Suzette:  Yeah. This is great. Thank you.

Doctor Neha:  If any of you are struggling with connecting to someone … You’ve tried everything you know. You just can’t seem to find a way to connect to their heart, maybe you’re not listening to them on the level of not … Maybe you’re listening on words or on emotions. What you need to listen on is the level of values. Paying attention and listening to what they’re saying or doing and really seeing what about that you value. Also, asking yourself what is it that this person has come into my life to teach me? Until next week. Thank you.

Your Awareness Prescription

  1. When you feel resistance in a relationship, get curious about what this person has come to teach you or help you heal from the past?
  2. Remember, a weakness is often a strength overused.How can you back off the intensity to turn your weakness back into a strength?
  3. When you most want to speak up, impart your wisdom or enforce your rules, instead, get curious and listen deeply until you find common ground.

For those who still don’t feel understood—I’m here for you!

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