We sat down with one of UCEBT's parent-child relationship specialists, Dr. Kalee Gross, to ask about the parent-adolescent relationship. What's it all about? Why is it important? How can it be improved? Read along in the fifth of this five part series to see what Dr. Gross says about the latest research on the parent-adolescent relationship.

Strategic use of Emotion and Attention (SEA) Protocol 

This last piece of information that I'm going to talk about for improving the relationship, is the Strategic use of Emotion and Attention (SEA) Protocol. The SEA Protocol uses the principles from Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT). I will say, however, it is not researched at this point, but the reason I'm bringing it up is because it has a lot of pieces that are based on principles that are really well researched and supported.  

This protocol occurs in two phases, similar to PCIT. The first phase really focuses on increasing attention for acceptable behaviors and increasing that positive regard. The second phase is focused on intentional teaching and contingent follow through. I'm not really going to talk much about the second phase right now, though, because the first phase is where we're going to get more of this information on how we can improve that relationship.  

Within that first phase, a huge part of increasing attention for acceptable behaviors is praise adding and praise. It’s extremely helpful to try to find opportunities to add in praise, perhaps by setting a goal for a number of times per day.  

You could start small, starting with five times a day. You could even break it down into something like, “I am going to focus on giving my teenager praise once in the morning, and again after school, and again at night.”  

The goal is to get to this 5:1 ratio of five positive interactions to one negative or more demanding interaction. Generally, the interaction tends to be more on the demanding side like when you get home and the first things that you say to your kid, “Oh, did you get your homework done? How was the test? Did you do all of your laundry? Do you have everything together for piano lessons tonight?” So these are more demanding interactions. We want to try to level out or increase the positive side, praising things that we want to see more of; usually when we praise someone for something, it feels really, really good and they want to get more of that praise... and so they're likely to keep doing that again. But it's not a one-time thing where you’re going to see this complete change in behavior all at once. You have to be consistently adding in the praise. But when thinking about adding in that praise, you can think about things that you want to see more of.  

Giving praise even when it’s something they’re just expected to do 

Sometime parents think, “why would I add in praise for something that is expected of them? Like they're expected to get their homework done... They're expected to do their chores well...”  

Well, I'm an adult and I don't like doing my chores, but when I do the dishes and I take out the trash and I do those things, it feels really good when my fiancé notices it and tells me, “Oh, thank you for doing that for me.” That feels really good and it makes me more likely to keep on doing it. But if I never got recognition for that, I'd probably eventually just stop taking out the trash or really reluctantly doing it. I would just kind of build up a lot of negative feelings about it.  

So, yes, there might be an expectation to do the dishes. And if we want to see them keep doing it or have less of a fight over doing the dishes, it can be really helpful to add in that praise.  

What is 'positive regard' and how do you do it? 

The other piece to the first phase of the SEA Protocol is adding in positive regard. Positive regard is like spending 5 to 15 minutes per day with your teen. I know sometimes that can be really hard to find that time, and so we can try to find times that it works in your schedule or that it's convenient for the teen. You can even do it on the way to school or on the way to an activity. But during this time, we want it to just feel like it's an experience that doesn't have a lot of demands. And we can do this by increasing physical affection during that time. So that physical affection could just be being in a closer proximity to them, smiling, more being more inviting to them. And then providing more positive comments. This could also be a great time to add in some of that validation that I talked about earlier. But we just want this to create this space where it feels really good to be talking with your teen instead of getting stuck in more demanding conversation. We're trying to kind of balance that out by adding shorter periods of time every day where it's more of these positive interactions.  

An important piece of during this 5 to 10 minutes is to avoid criticisms, commands or questions during this time. In fact, criticisms in general just aren't the best. Saying something like “you're a terrible student” just tends to decrease the teen's self-esteem, making it even harder for them to try hard and work hard to become a “better” student. They just don’t feel great and lowers self-esteem. So even outside of these 5 to 10 minutes, it would be helpful to avoid those criticisms. But especially during these 5 to 10 minutes, we really want to avoid those. 

We also want to avoid commands during this time because commands can seem pretty demanding and punishing for the teen. Sometimes we don't even know that we're giving commands. Those could be things like, “hey, look at this”, “come over here”, "do the dishes”, “get your homework done”.  

We're also trying to avoid questions during this time. When we have question after question after question like... “How was your day? What did your teacher say? How did this go?” It can feel pretty demanding to them instead of just feeling like they have an open space to talk. So, it’s best to keep those questions to a minimum. After all, if you can imagine, whenever someone has asked you question after question after question, you tend to get over the conversation like, “I'm done, I don't want to talk anymore”, shutting down the conversation instead of opening it up.  

Eliminating emotion during conflict 

One piece that I do want to talk about from that second phase of the SEP protocol, is whenever you are dealing with problem behaviors, we want to try to eliminate emotion. That doesn't mean you're not going to have emotion. Of course, you're going to have emotions about it. But we're trying to keep those inside. And when we're talking about it, having a more neutral manner, when we're talking about those problems. Going back to that example with the teen coming in late and being late for curfew and not letting the parent know, you'll notice earlier when I was talking about it, how I was saying it in a more neutral, calm manner. You can even think about it as being more robotic, if that's helpful for you. Because usually when we add in that emotion during problem behaviors, that increase in emotion just contributes to the escalation in that conflict and doesn't usually let us resolve it in a way that's beneficial for either the teen or the parent.  

So, if you're in a conflict, and you notice you can't keep the emotion in any longer, take a break. That's okay to take a break and come back to it, because that's going to be more helpful for you to take a break then it would be to continue with that conflict.  

This also teaches teens how to be when they're receiving those consequences. So the calmer and more neutral we are when delivering the consequences, they'll also learn to be calmer, more neutral when receiving those consequences, or at least more so than they would have if we're increasing the emotion in that situation. And also, again, models for them how to handle difficult situations where, again, we are always teaching teens how to behave. 

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