This was a hard week.
For various reasons, by Friday I was worn out. Unfortunately, the show must go on.
Just when I thought my day was almost over, I received a request from a parent who desperately wanted to help her teenage daughter. She was convinced that a conversation between us would be just the key to solving all the problems.
The daughter, who had struggled with some emotional difficulty in recent years, had gotten fully entrenched in an on again off again friendship with another student. The most recent conflict had included some choice words exchanged over text. The daughter who was understandably done with the relationship now wanted to sever all ties, which included eliminating the student from the group that they had chosen for the upcoming field trip.
This triggered a mass chaos among the group and now I was being called in to fix the situation.
When the mom sat sown she began by saying that she wanted to make sure that I had clearly understood her daughter and that she wanted to understand the process I used to help and how she could best handle the situation.
That’s not really wanted she wanted. She wanted to take away her daughters pain.
I understand exactly how she feels. I have been in that exact situation before, seeing a teen struggling with the social, emotional, or academic stresses that appear to be breaking their spirit. From birth, we have vowed to love and protect our young. It’s instinctual.
I was faced with the exact challenge of knowing how to help my teen when she shared some insecurities with me that I had not been aware of. You want to hold them, kiss the boo boo, make it all better. Never thought I would long for the day when a band-aid could erase all the pain. For all the parents looking to help a teen struggling with a difficult situation, here are three tips I used, I hope they will help you both make it through, mostly unscathed.
1. Acknowledge your child’s feelings. This works remarkably well for discharging the most emotional situations. What your teen wants most in life is to know that you understand. Statements like, “Sounds like you are really disappointed that Jack broke your date” or “I saw how hard you studied, I would be really frustrated with that grade too” go long ways to helping teens connect with what they are really feeling. Many parents have a knee jerk reaction to minimize their teens feelings. Even though the display of emotion may be out of proportion to the problem, the response is likely completely normal. Behave as if you are a mirror, reflecting the feeling, not the expression of feeling.
2. Help them brainstorm solutions, if they want to. Your child may not be open to solutions that you suggest, but by offering to help you give them a chance to process through the feelings and get your input if needed. Never offer the answer to their problems, which can unconsciously signal the teen to believe they are not capable of handling the problem on their own.
3. Help them keep things in perspective, and know when to ask for help. Teens, by nature think in terms of here and now. This can often magnify problems in their minds and cause them to feel as if the world is ending with every conflict. When you overreact with them it can make things worse. In the times when we you need to move things to the next level, say visiting a counselor or therapist or hiring a tutor, maintain a steady and calm demeanor without making your child feel like their problems are massive or unusual.