As a mother of three young adults and a teen counselor, I think I have seen and heard it all. Struggling kids trying to communicate with their struggling parents is not new. What is new is that we are now at home with our kids and have the time to open up subjects that for some feel like Pandora’s Box. We can engage with our kids and begin a conversation that can continue over an extended period of time. This is daunting because the deeper the conversation the more lost we can feel. We know that we are the parents and are supposed to come up with the answers and know what witty informative responses are called for but often we may not.
Conversations now often focus on the virus, how long it will last, what we can and cannot do during this surreal time. But we can take advantage of this time to talk about the things that our kids deal with when they are back living their normal lives. This is a golden opportunity for us to share advice and concerns when the iron is not hot. As we all know prevention is so much better than damage control. Now is the time to help our kids know how to deal with conflict and to show them that we are there for them no matter what.
During regular; pre-Corona times, most of us are too busy or tired to talk to our kids at the end of the day. They have had a full day of school and other activities, sports, work, etc., and we too have had a full day of work and errands. We often just want to relax when we get home and avoid conflict. So now we have a real opportunity to practice communication with our kids.
I find that the most important advice I have given parents over the years is how to communicate with their kids in a non-threatening way. When we start our sentences with You our kids become defensive. “I” messages work wonders for getting our point across by focusing on ourselves, our feelings and our concerns and wishes for our kids. The sentence is presented like this: I feel…… When you….. I wish you would….. . With this simple model we are focusing on our feelings, the exact behavior we are concerned about and exactly what our desires are from our kids. This works for all ages but particularly for teens and older young adults who are often ready to be ridiculed by well-meaning parents.
Another rule I follow is for every criticism we share we are bound to give two compliments within the same day. Our kids are more apt to want to please us if we catch them doing good. This is something that parents often forget. Again, spending so much time with our kids now we can see the good in them and point it out to them. They will be more apt to try to please us if they see that we notice and it is acknowledged.
The next point is to allow our kids victories. Every time we do something for them that they can do for themselves we are taking away their opportunity to feel empowered. I am working with a family that until we began meeting the mom was making her sons’ beds at the ripe age of 20 and 24. Now they take care of their rooms, cook for themselves, do their own laundry and take care of the dog. By the end of the day they have many things to feel proud about. I know it is classic for all mothers particularly Jewish mothers to want to spoil our kids. It feels so good. But our kids need to feel good about themselves so that when they are ready to go off to college, move out with friends, join the army or whatever their next step will be they will be ready to be independent.
My last point is based on quality time with our families. Something we are getting a lot of these days. I remember growing up in the ‘70’s when there were public service announcements on TV encouraging family dinners. They shared statistics about how eating together as a family actually avoided negative behaviors and increased positive ones. In the article https://www.google.com/search?q=how+family+dinners+help+kids&rlz=1C1AFAA_enUS432IL615&oq=how+family+dinners+help+kids&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l7.18980j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 they stated the following. Family dinners result in:
- Better academic performance.
- Higher self-esteem.
- Greater sense of resilience.
- Lower risk of substance abuse.
- Lower risk of teen pregnancy.
- Lower risk of depression.
- Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders.
- Lower rates of obesity.
That’s quite a list I know, but really we as parents are our children’s backbone. In Judaism we learn that our relationship with our parents is the first God-like relationship our kids have. When they learn to trust and respect their parents it is easier for them to trust and respect God. Basically all of the above factors indicate a higher self esteem. When we feel that our parents really see us and Count us as Moshe and Aaron did with the Israelites on Mt Sinai our kids feel that they count. They begin to believe that if they count to us, their parents, they count to the world. If they count to the world then what they do really counts and often they will think twice before risking themselves knowing that it will have a profound effect on others.
For more information about me, my experience with teens and their families and more tips on assisting parents to bond with their teens feel free to look up my website and reach out www.jerusalemteencounseling.net
Tracey Shipley is a teen and young adult counselor specializing in addictions and working with youth and their parents for over 30 years. She is the founder of the Sobar alcohol free live music bar project for teens and young adults. You can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org www.jerusalemteencounseling.net