Everybody who never worries, raise your hand. If your hand is raised, sorry, but you’re lying. Everybody worries. The question is not do we worry, but what do we do with our worry.
Ben, age 13, has his first real crush. He thinks about Brittany all the time. He sits beside her in math class and dreams about talking to her, but he can’t. He thinks she’s out of his league because she’s one of the popular kids in school. He’s just, well, Ben.
On Saturday, Ben’s out doing errands with his dad. “Benjy, you seem preoccupied. Anything going on?” he asks while driving. Ben looks out his passenger window, sighs, “naw, I’m good,” he mutters.
“Well, it this is good, buddy, I’d be concerned about bad.”
Ben sighs again. “It’s just that, you know, girl problems.”
“Ahh, that’ll drive you crazy,” dad begins, “You know what I say? Forget about girls. Get your head around your athletics. That’ll bring the girls to you, ya know what I mean?”
Although well intentioned, dad’s comments probably drove Ben’s worry further underground. One of the cardinal rules of active listening, and major caution is this. Never offer unsolicited solutions. Even if you have the perfect solution to your child’s problems, it is yours, not his. The hidden message behind your solution is, “you are so stupid, incompetent, and not worth figuring it out, that I’m going to give you the answer.”
No parent would ever say that to their child…on purpose. With active listening, however, you are joining your child in their search for answers by helping them understand their feelings, rather than by giving solutions. When you note their emotional fever going down, you can ask, “I have some thoughts on what you’re going through. Do you want to hear them?” Children and teens alike love being asked permission before the parent talks.
Ben’s worry is real. Help him explore all the “what ifs” he is troubled over and turn them into “I wonders,” with a hoped for positive outcome. So, what if she doesn’t talk to me? Becomes, I wonder how the conversation will go when I talk to her? All worry comes from what if thoughts. I wonder thoughts generate curiosity, where you child can struggle with their own possible solutions. Even worrying can turn into a teachable moment for you and your child.
Okay, I admit it. I’m a Star Trek nut. Never had the series theme song as my ringtone, but I do like the lead-in…Space, the final frontier. For teens, having space and learning how to navigate it well, is their final frontier, on the boundary between adolescence and adulthood.
At 16, Alan was, well, Alan. He is tall, lanky, not particularly social nor athletic. He’s a computer gamer and he spends a lot of time in his bedroom watching YouTube videos and playing RPG’s with his friends. His role-playing friends are on-line. Each has the others back in the war games they play. Alan has only one friend in real life, his next door neighbor, Tommy, and they’ve known each other since they moved into the neighborhood when Tommy was 3 years old.
Alan is a B/C student, doing well in computer, math, and technology classes at school, not so well in English and history classes. His thumbs fly when he is texting, of course using the obligatory texting, emoji-laden short hand, but it is hard for him to turn in essay questions, book reports, or even stories that capture his imagination and gaming expertise. His teachers have tried everything to help motivate Alan to succeed in school.
So, the million dollar question. Is Alan’s story normal? Typical for his age group? As his parent, how do you check this out? How do you help him navigate to adulthood and successful, responsible, independent living?
Alan certainly wants his space, his own cocoon in his room. That, in and of itself is normal. Teens do these kinds of things on their journey of finding themselves. Establishing an individual identity is the developmental goal of adolescence. However, we all, also by nature, are social animals. Most folks have 1 or 2 best friends, with whom each is the other’s confidante, and a social network of 6 to 8 people, 2 or 4 couples as adults, with whom they frequently hang out.
To help the Alans of the world navigate adolescence to adulthood, several points come to mind. First, respect his need for space, but with some conditions. He must make an effort to emerge from his room for meals with the family, for school, and for other required appointments. Second, he must attend to responsibilities, such as homework, chores, errands and the like, before melting into his “space.”
Third, he must be willing to share his feelings with you at some level. Remember, kids don’t answer essay questions very well. So, when you get a shoulder shrug, look away, or silence in response, make your essay question a multiple choice question. You know your teen well enough to likely come up with a topic or area that’s troubling him. Use your active listening to help him flesh out his feelings and be available, on his request, to troubleshoot and advise.
Wanting space is not the teen problem. That’s normal. If they use that space to hole up, withdraw from social/family interaction, and push people away, then it’s a problem. With your kind assurance, healthy confrontation, and loving active listening, such problems can become teachable moments.
“But I want it,” little 3 yr. old Andy demanded, stomping his feet for emphasis. “Gimme right now.”
“That’s enough, young man,” huffed his mom, with hands on hips. “What part of ‘no’ didn’t you understand?”
Andy darted past his mom in the kitchen, sweeping loose objects off the kitchen table as he went. He screamed, running through the house, catching his breath only to declare loudly, “You’re so mean.”… “You’re not my mommy.”… “I don’t love you anymore.”
Andy’s behavior is unacceptable, and he is out of control. Mom pulled the power and authority card, but this time to no avail. Now what do you do?
Even in the most stable, best of homes and environments, tantrum behavior from some children is inevitable. Sometimes it is embarrassing, especially when thrown with company around or in a public place, like the supermarket. Always, it is challenging when you child is demonstrating out-of-control behavior. When your power and authority falls flat, shift your focus from your authority to his feelings. Active listening is the go-to tool whenever your child demonstrates an emotional fever. Tantrum behavior counts.
Sometimes, thankfully rarely, some children up the ante by demonstrating safety or property issues. If they are in danger of harming themselves, you, or others, and if they start randomly throwing and breaking things, you might use what’s called a nurturing/holding procedure, or NHP.
The NHP is a physical restraint of your child against his will, with your assurance that you will only control him until he can control himself. Get ready. Kids will resist and attempt to get loose or turn on you by biting, kicking, pinching, and the like.
Hold him from behind, with your legs wrapped around his and your arms covering his. Keep your head back, to avoid his head-butting you. As calmly and with soothing voice as possible, tell him, “Sweetheart, I’m so sorry you are having such a bad time. Right now, you can’t control yourself. Ya know what? I’m going to continue controlling you so that you don’t hurt yourself, me, others, or break things. I love you so much that I’m going to do this for you as long as I need to. As soon as you show me you’ve calmed down and regained your control, I’ll let you go.
When your child realizes he can’t get loose, and you mean what you say, he will calm himself down. As you see measures of this, acknowledge them with assurances. Often, when this norm is established, all parents need to do subsequently is ask, “Now, Andy, do I need to hold you tight again?” Their memory kicks in and they calm down. After calming himself down, even a tantrum can become a teachable moment.
Your phone is ringing. The baby is crying. Your toddler just spilled his juice all over the floor. The clothes dryer is buzzing and you haven’t even put up the clean clothes from last night. Is your head exploding yet? Mine is.
Feeling overwhelmed can be a normal, common state for well-intentioned parents. My parents were never there for me, so I’m gonna put my all into being the best…parent…ever. My mom and dad sacrificed everything for us kids. That’s just what parents do. The Bible teaches me to be submissive to my husband and a servant to my kids, so that’s what I’m doing.
Wow! I’ve actually heard parents say these kinds of things to me. Again, well-intentioned, but a set-up for feeling perpetually overwhelmed. So, mom and dad, how can you get back on steady course for the right reasons?
First, recognize and use the pyramid of family relations. You are at the top of your relational pyramid. Above your pyramid is God. If you are not right with God, your relations with your spouse and family will be full of issues. Some parents build a prayer closet, literally, for time with the Lord. Others set aside 15 minutes per day for personal devotions. Jesus said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” Take Him at His word.
Second, as you take time for yourself, you make time for your spouse. Jesus also said, “Love one another as you love yourself.” Self-care makes quality other-care possible. Healthy diet, sufficient sleep, exercise all facilitate healthy interaction with your spouse. Setting aside couple devotional time as well sets the tone. Further down the pyramid are your children, extended family, and friends.
The keys to multi-tasking and balancing self-care with other-care are prioritizing, delegating and setting healthy boundaries. In assessing the tasks, hand your toddler paper towels to clean up his mess, as you go to the baby to soothe her tears. These are the immediate priorities. You don’t have to answer your phone until you have the time. Your phone stores the call and it will be there when you are not so frantic. If the buzzer on your dryer loops to recur intermittently, take a moment to shut it off after you settle the baby. Help your toddler clean up his mess, telling him what a big boy he is to get started without you.
With immediate crises averted, sit and take a breath. Life will go on. Got is good, and so are you. Later, with your spouse, in a family meeting, you can set healthy boundaries by compiling lists of house rules and individual chores. Delegate chores to children consistent with their ages, but everybody pitches in. Build “me” time into your schedule. If you wait for a good time to take care of yourself, it will never happen.