How Big is Their But?

This post is not an opportunity to focus on your teenager’s physical appearance and perceived poor eating habits.  After all, who is supplying the food they are eating? 

The language we use reflects the thoughts in our heads. There’s a saying, “Everything by the ‘but’ is bullshit.” Self-explanatory and true. The ‘but’ is an excuse, a justification for why you’re not doing what you’d like to do, living like you’d like to live, or achieving what you said you’d do. 

Tune in, listen to their language.  Specifically, you are listening for the word ‘but’ because that is where you’ll find the excuses.

When you can spot a ‘but’ from a mile away, it’s time to get serious … and start a BUT jar. Get an empty jar.  Write the word BUT on the outside.  Put a stack of small pieces of paper next to the jar, all with BUT written on them. Every time anyone uses the word ‘but’ in the house, their name goes onto a piece of paper along with a brief description of what was said. Then the paper goes in the BUT jar. At the end of the week open the jar and talk about the reasons for the ‘but’.  You will get some hilarious family stories just from this exercise alone. 

And this is the perfect opportunity for reflective growth on how things could have gone differently. It’s time to be nice:

Notice – This is what was said. No judgments; you’re human and humans have thoughts.

Interesting – Did I really say that? A yes or no answer is all that’s required here.

Curious – I wonder why I said that? Get your best detective hat on for this.

Explain – This is the thought that made me say that. Here’s where you’ll find the gold.

It may take a few weeks until you begin to notice a change in the number of ‘but’ slips in the jar, and that’s okay.  Stick with it and you will get there. Don’t be tempted to say, “We tried BUT it was too hard!”

The next step is important too: Teach your teens to swap their ‘but’ to ‘and’ for ownership.  Here’s an example for you, “I wanted to get to school on time BUT I forgot to set my alarm so I overslept.” That’s a total teenage excuse. Let’s change it. “I wanted to get to school on time and I forgot to set my alarm so I overslept.” Same sentence, with just a simple one-word swap. It’s such an important swap though because the first sentence is simply an excuse with minimal owning of their part in the action.  The second sentence is an explanation with ownership of the problem, and not in a way that assigns blame.

When there’s ownership there is also the power to change. If your teenager is able to explain an incident with an ‘and’ it tells you they own the problem. Being a teenager they might not like owning the problem, again; stick with it and you will get there. Think of yourself as holding space for them to explore their own thinking. You don’t get to comment on it or fix it, you are simply a space holder for all their ideas. That, right there, is enormously freeing for you and for them. And it will help them develop ownership, choice, and responsibility.

Where there is ownership, there is then room for choice.  Let’s look at the same sentence again, and now with ownership added on. “I wanted to get to school on time and I forgot to set my alarm so I overslept. Tomorrow I will double-check the alarm before I go to sleep.”  Not only is there ownership, now there is also choice and responsibility. Wow, all that from a one-word change!

An effective parent is self-aware: of their own thoughts, their own language, and their own needs.   If you let a ‘but’ stop you, what are you really teaching them?  We teach best by modeling and doing and how you live your life is what you are teaching your teenagers.  What results are you getting? And what language are you using to support those results?

Listen to your own language.  When you talk about your teenager do you use the word ‘but’.  Stop that nasty habit. You’re just giving them an excuse.

When it comes to our teens we only have a few precious years left before they leave home. What you say and do counts as much in these years of parenting as it did when they were little. What legacy do you want to leave them?  A legacy of ‘but’, or do you want to be the but kicker that sets your teenager up to live a life of purpose?

Click here to explore my coaching options.  A few hours spent strengthening your parenting skills will pay dividends for your family. Don’t let your “but” stop you!