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.