I’ve worked with my share of children and teens at CPCC and, not surprisingly, what comes with this role is the ability to work with the parents as well. When parents bring their children to counseling, there is typically some mixture of the parents desiring what’s best for their child while knowing that they cannot completely provide this on their own at the moment. I think one of the most loving and humble things a parent can do for their child is realizing that the child is struggling and then seeking out help for them. By doing this, the parent is modeling to the child that it’s okay to have a hard period of time and the best course of action is to find help and support.
One of the first questions I get from parents is some form of “How can I help?” or “What can we do at home?” which are both wonderful questions, but I don’t always have the specific answers right away. All the children and teens I see are different and need different approaches, and after a few sessions I am better equipped to give more complete answers to those questions. However, one aspect of parenting that I always home in on is communication. Regardless of the issue that brought the family to pursue counseling for the child, there’s usually a level of disconnect between how the child is feeling and how the parents are understanding the situation. That’s not always the case, I’ve seen wonderfully responsive parents that listen to their child, validate them, and make sure they don’t feel shame around their struggle. However, in the heat of frustration and disobedience, it can be hard to calm down the environment and truly listen to your child’s perspective.
If this is something you feel you may be lacking, you’re not alone. It is challenging for many parents to learn and master this skill, especially if it isn’t how they were raised or they don’t get the chance to practice in their marriage or relationship. To start, find a time when tensions are low and a conflict isn’t impending. Find a way to sit down with your child, either over a game of cards, inside a fort, or just on the foot of their bed. Give them the opportunity to share how they are doing that day and do your best to keep your opinions, comments, and emotions to yourself. This isn’t a time to correct or disagree, even if the child is complaining about you and hurting your feelings. Try to validate them by explaining that their perspective or feelings are valid and repeat to them what you’re hearing. Feel free to engage with them if they need comfort; offering a hug or a backrub while they’re being vulnerable can be very beneficial for the parent-child bond. End by letting them know how much you appreciate hearing about how they’re doing because you love them and continue to just listen and engage without reactions or corrections.
Often times, parents tell me this sounds so simple but did wonders for their relationship. Over time, their child learned to open up more about their emotions. By having that safe place to be heard, there were less emotional outbursts, less angry yelling, and more connection and understanding in the home. Children obviously still need conversations around rules, boundaries, consequences, etc. but having those balanced by times to just listen can be revolutionary in a home.