All children need guidance. They learn new skills by observing and mimicking a caregiver’s actions, listening to set rules and expectations, and engaging in discussions with those who have experienced similar problems and struggles. Also, all children need space to explore their innate, internal voice. With a trusted mentor, children can process their natural response to a problem and learn to cope with the uncomfortable feeling(s) associated with it. The most important component when helping your child get through a tough situation is to keep a compassionate attitude and let go of the desire to manipulate the outcome or change the circumstance for them. Instead, refraining from solving the problem for them requires and encourages determination and resilience for both the caregiver and child.
Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish are experts and authors on communication between adults and children. In their book, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, they give four possible ways to provide “first aid to a child in distress” (p 18). Below is one of my favorites to use in session with clients both young and old, as well as with my own four-year-old daughter. Perhaps I like this one because I connect to the mom, probably the coffee and sitting part, and also I love her minimal response.
When a child comes to you with a problem, your initial instinct is to what? Fix it of course!
Received a C on your test? Study harder, I will get a tutor, make flashcards, make a Quizlet
Sister took a toy? Use an I-Message, find something else, use words not hands, share.
College application time and you have no recommendation letters? Call your coach/manager/teacher
You have the answers, it’s true! You have been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt. Your child is coming to you, and you want to help. At this point, I propose you allow your child or teenager to at least try to solve their problem first. I encourage parents to slow this moment down. Put down what ever you are engaged in and give them a quiet space to solve the problem on their own. On the playground, there is no time, there is definitely no quiet. At college, you will not be there to give them advice. While they are in your presence, and willing to share a problem, be willing to trust and support them through solving it on their own.
Everyone needs advice every now and then, but I wonder, does your child already have the answer? Can you encourage deeper consideration with a one-word response? Many times, I will ask my client who has a problem at home or school, “What do you think you should do?” Additionally, if a client fails to follow directions I may get his or her attention and say, “What do you think I am going to say right now?” Their response will tell me either they did not understand the directions, and I will set the expectation again, or I will hear them say, “You are going to say to put the paintbrush down.” To this I respond, “This tells me you knew what to do, but you were choosing not to do it. Please make a good choice and put the brush back.” Either way, both options allow the child time and space to interpret their actions.
If your child or teen takes a moment to reach out and share his or her problem, provide a quiet space to listen to their internal voice and share their thoughts with someone who is caring and available, you!
If you are interested in learning about other roadblocks to effective adult/child communication, follow this link to the book by Faber and Mazlish. It is a wonderful read and recommend by the therapists at Art It Out. Amazon Link "How To Talk So Kids Will Listen, And Listen So Kids Will Talk"
Heather Elson, MA, CMHC, LAPC leads individual and group therapy sessions at Art It Out. She also provides parenting and family support.