Laura and I had our third coaching session just two days ago. She came to me because she was worried about her 14 year old son who was slacking off in school and in danger of failing classes. There were also problems at home with getting cooperation and respecting limits. At our last session, together we came up with some strategies and wording.
1) Shifting responsibility back to her son by offering choices. That ended up sounding something like this: "You can either put your things where they belong or you can leave it to me... only you're not going to be too happy with my solution. The choice is yours. How would you like to handle it?" Laura wasn't going to do the picking up anymore, but she didn't want to be in a power struggle, either. With this approach she was calm and clear about what was expected and what the choices and outcomes could be. No surprises. No wheedling. And I know Laura well enough to know that she would be able to follow through.
2) Acknowledging feelings. This is big. In most situations, when we acknowledge our kids' feelings, they end up being more receptive to learning and self-correcting later on. Laura practiced applying the skills to a few situations and agreed that there was great potential in them to improve their relationship and her ability to help him through tough times.
3) Take five. When you're angry or confused, step back and think about what you really want to say.
Here's the part you really want to read.
Less than 24 hours later Laura called. She was out the night before and received a phone call that her son, and a couple of friends, had been picked up by the police for vandalism. You can imagine what it was like when they returned home... or can you?
Her first impulse was to do what many parents do in a pressure-cooker situation like this: yell, cry, accuse, question, threaten, and wring their hands. After two sentences, Laura stopped herself, remembering what we had discussed just that morning. She told Jared that she was upset and didn't want to say things that were hurtful and would not go anywhere good. They would talk again later.
And they did. A lot was said, and here's what you need to know. She asked him how he felt about what happened. Embarrassed? No. Worried? No. Ashamed? Yes. Laura offered him the words until he found one that fit. She helped Jared identify the emotion, and he continued talking.
Laura made it clear that he would take the consequences, and find a way to help pay the fine. No argument from him. Jared also agreed to go for counseling.
While this family's story is distressing, I consider it a success story, too. I don't know how things will be one month or six months down the road. What I do know is that this week Laura took a big step. And having done it once, she'll be able to do it again. She
stood her ground and put responsibility where it belongs.
applied what she learned to a tough situation.
helped her son process what was going on within and without.
created trust between them (in spite of what happened).
saved a precious relationship that could have been seriously eroded by anger and fear.
You are an inspiration, Laura. Thank you for letting me tell your story.
~Fern Weis, Certified Coach and Middle School Teacher, helps parents break down the walls their teens put up, so they can have a great relationship and better prepare their kids for success in college and beyond. Learn how Fern can help you with your parenting concerns through coaching, classes and workshops at Your Family Matters.