Case 1: Setting Boundaries on adolescent yelling and insulting
Excerpts from the live Q & A, April 7, 2022, with Randi and Corrine
Questioner (Q): I would like to know how do we set boundaries for our daughter? She has a little dog and she was not caring for him. We said we would get rid of the dog. She went into an emotional crisis. She yelled and insulted us. She threatened to call the police and to commit suicide. So, we let her keep the dog. She is taking responsibility for him now but I feel like I still don’t know how to set boundaries…
Randi Kreger (RK): So, what do you do for her?
Q: She gets to keep the dog in the house. The dog is very important to her. But she is caring for him now… Hhmmm…We also pay for her cell phone and medical insurance. We drive her places. We give her emotional support and try to help her. We also pay for her medical insurance.
RK: What is the behavior that you want to change?
Q: Her attitude toward us… like yelling, swearing, blaming us for all her problems. She feels like she doesn’t belong…
RK: Let’s boil that down into something that is clear, something that turns on and off, for example, calling you a name. Tell me something very specific that she says or doesn’t say… Something that you can turn into a limit.
Q: She says a lot, “I hate being here. This place is very toxic for me.”
RK: Well, that’s an opinion. That’s her opinion and you really can’t set limits around an opinion but we can set limits on the way that it’s expressed.
Q: Ok, can we express limits on the volume of her voice that she says things to us?
RK: Alright, how would you like to be talked to?
Q: A calm voice, nice respectfully, like you talk to your friends or colleagues.
RK: So, a limit would be defined as ways that we take care of ourselves when we are in situations in which we need to take care of ourselves. And rather than make it a limit about her, I would make it a limit about the whole family. In this family we speak to each other graciously, kindly, compassionately.
Q: If I say that to her and she comes back screaming and swearing, do I just turn around and walk away?
RK: Well, first there is the matter of setting limits. If you do speak to us in this way, we will not listen to what you have to say and we will walk away until you feel like speaking in a calm and compassionate way. We will make the same promise to you. And then simply walk away if she speaks to you like that. If she follows you, then leave the house. You can remind her of why you are doing this.
So, let’s practice that. I going to be you and you be her. What is her name?
Q: Janet. She is 19.
RK: Janet, I want to talk about the way that we all live here together. Could you come and listen and participate?
Q: No, you’re just going to try and control me. I am NOT going to do this! (yelling)
RK: OK, Janet, do you want to live here?
Q: This is MY house and you can’t do ANYTHING about that! (yelling)
RK: Janet, I don’t want to get into a discussion about who’s house it is. We all live here. I’d like to tell you about some new policies that we all have for living together…so we can all live together in the best way we all know how. Can you please come sit down?
Q: Alright but it better be short! What do you want?
RK: Well, would you like to live in a place where people speak to you calmly and compassionately?
Q: Can you tell Dad and Jimmy to do the same for me? They are never nice to me. So why am I being picked on?
RK: I haven’t picked on you.
Q: Yes, you are trying to make this all about me. I know.
RK: Okay, let’s bring the others in here. I think we should all talk together. I think we should all speak to each other exactly how we would like to be spoken. So, let’s get them in. (Role play expands to include all four family members.)
RK: Alright everybody. We are going to be talking about how we talk to each other. I know that we have problems and that those problems are not going to just magically go away.It’s something that we can all do for ourselves and each other. Something that we can all do for ourselves and each other is talk to each other with love. Sometimes even when we can’t feel it, we’re angry, we’re upset, and we think we hate the other person… those feelings will come, but in order to live together, especially when there’s a lot of things going on, I think I would like to say that everybody, how… let’s start with you Janet. Janet, how would you like people to talk to you?
Q: I don’t care. I’m so used to everybody just being mean to me. I’m used to it.
RK: Okay, well let’s hear from my husband Rob. Rob, how would you like to be spoken to?
Q: I like to be spoken to in a nice and calm way so we can all focus.
RK: Ok. And how about Janet’s brother, Jimmy. Jimmy, how would you like to be spoken to?
Q: As little as possible.
RK: Ok, so there won’t be very much of this. But when there is conversation would you like it to be nice and calm like your Dad said?
Q: Yes. Nice and calm.
RK: Does anybody NOT want it to be nice and calm? Does anybody want it to be loud and punitive?
RK: Okay, so we all want to speak to each other respectfully, compassionately, and quietly. So, let’s think about respect, compassion, and quietness. Now this is easy to talk about but it’s going to be harder when things get going and suddenly, the emotions get high.
So, let’s remind ourselves…and I may remind you and you can remind me. And if we don’t feel that we can talk that way then let’s just wait until everybody’s feeling a little bit better so that we can all be respectful toward each other. Even if we disagree, we can still respect and love the other person. Okay?
Q: Okay. I can tell you to calm down too?
RK: Well, let’s not say to each other calm down. Let’s practice saying, ‘when you raise your voice or when you say this it makes me feel blah blah blah and I wish that you would blah blah blah. So, Janet, imagine that you're feeling yelled at can you practice with me?
Q: Ok, sure
RK: So, let's say that you feel whatever you go ahead and make it up and tell me how you would like to be spoken to
Q: When you yell at me it makes me feel unloved and I want you to speak to me calm
RK: I don't want you to feel unloved because I love you very much so when I speak to you, I will always try to remain as calm and loving and compassionate as I can.
So, notice the things that I did:
· I concentrated on what she wanted.
· I made it a rule for everybody in the house.
· I didn't pick on her.
· I didn't use the word you. (Try not to use the word you it comes off as very ‘finger pointy’.)
These are some principles to get started. Give it a try. Try to validate everyone along the way by listening respectfully and modelling that behavior that you are asking everyone to commit to!
Randi Kreger's book, Stop Walking on Eggshells for Parents is available where ever you buy books or you can order it directly from the Stop Walking on Eggshells website.