“If I have to tell you one more time to put your smelly football socks actually IN the laundry basket…” you hear yourself say for the 3,871st time this season. You’re more tired of hearing yourself say it than your kid is hearing it, but what’s a parent to do when you just can’t get through to the one who conveniently acquires selective hearing? Punishments and rewards have lost their power, and seriously…can you really effectively “ground” your 15-year-old for not picking up his socks?

More than likely not, so here are four simple steps to getting your kids, regardless of their ages, to do what you’ve asked after the first few — not the 3,871st — times.

1. Recognize your child – not his behavior. All behaviors equal unmet needs. If your son’s stinky Nike socks lay on the floor next to the laundry basket AGAIN, there’s more to the story than just him wanting to be difficult. It’s possible your son is overwhelmed with school, sports, peers and life in general and could use a listening ear. And it’s even more possible the only way he can get your attention — positive or negative — is by leaving his socks next to the hamper. Or it might just so happen the basket is already overflowing, and he’s trying to get YOUR attention.

Whatever the case may be, show your son he’s a priority in your life by setting aside a special time for the two of you to just talk. Give him the space to clear up the sock issue first by asking him what’s up and then actively hearing what he has to say…and problem-solve together. You, of all people, know how important communication and interaction are to your own well-being; it’s even more imperative for your teenager to know they’re seen AND heard for who they are and not just how they perform in school and/or sports. The more you allow your son to express himself without fear of judgment or being “fixed,” the more he’ll step up his game at home. Think about it this way: if your boss gave you praise instead of criticism, you’d be more likely to do a little extra every now and then, right?

2. Use “I” messages. Your teenager is no fool. He already knows at some point in the very near future you’re going to HAVE to address the fact his socks could get up and put themselves in the washing machine. Why not go ahead and have the conversation before too much time passes and too much resentment gets built up between the two of you. Make sure to be real and vulnerable with him, however, and let him know how repeating your requests over and over makes you feel by using “I” messages.

If his sock neglect makes you feel disrespected, gently let him know that by saying something along the lines of, “Ya know, honey…with so many other things I’ve got going on, when I see your socks laying next to the laundry basket day after day, I start to feel disrespected and unappreciated.” Approaching subjects like this from the “I” vantage point keeps defenses down and communication flowing. It opens the door for a response that might just go like this: “Dude! It’s not like that at all. I’m just so tired from football and homework that I keep forgetting to pick them up once I leave the room.” Or, “Well, mom … you keep telling me to put them in the laundry, but the basket is, well, kinda always full…”

3. Meet in the middle. Once the two of you have figured out what the root of the behavior is, and you’ve had a good laugh about what the other person was actually thinking (as opposed to what you THOUGHT they were scheming), you can together come up with a solution that everyone can agree on. You can do your part with the laundry (and maybe even elicit a little help from you new bestie), and he’ll be more willing to do his part since you’ve allowed him the space to speak his truth without getting yelled out. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Give it a try. Like with anything worth doing, it may take a little perseverance to get the communication doors swinging both way; but then again, it’ll be well worth the effort to be able to save your voice, your sanity and your relationship with your kid.

4. Keep talking. It’s imperative to keep communication open and honest between your children and you…forever. Life is about relationships, and communication is the glue that either holds them together or the acid that disintegrates them. Please, for the sake of your family and the future of the next generation of leaders, empower your kids by acknowledging them as the amazing individuals they are, talk to them as if they matter — because they do — and love them unconditionally. You never know…they just might surprise you and offer you the same in return.