Are you called to CONNECT or CONFRONT?
Listen, I’m going to just raise my hand and admit right off the bat that I’m called to confront. It’s in my bones. Someone is being ridiculous? You bet your bootie I am there to point out their BS.
Makes my family relationships real healthy at times.
Luckily, with clients I have a useful dose of gentle phrasing I can employ to subtly allow them to see their BS with increased clarity.
Ok I kid slightly. My clients trust me and my insight and so when they need to be called out (with immense love and a supportive foundation to fall back on) then they call on me.
The key word is TRUST. The fact is, if we want to confront, and have someone TRUST that we genuinely care and have their best interests in mind, we have to connect first.
Your presence, your phrasing, and your intention matter big time. I want to walk you through this because if there is one true thing in the world it is that teens have the best BS meters, like ever, for real! And thus they will know if you aren’t being genuine, present, or if your intentions are more about your needs than theirs.
Let’s dive in (I love saying that. Let’s swim in the murky waters of our tween and teen’s lives as they intersect with our own emotional murky waters. Don’t worry, I’m swimming right alongside you).
It probably sounds like I have clients who call me up when they need a butt-kicking as if I am some emotional boot-camp instructor.
Reminds me of this always hilarious comedy clip that makes the rounds at every therapy conference (warning this may lead you down a YouTube rabbit hole. Remember to come back here after)
Luckily, though I do have a background as a fitness instructor, I know that in fitness as in emotional wellbeing, that there needs to be delicate balance of love and toughness. Just as no one will come to the gym if they hate the emotional experience they get while there, no one will move through a coaching program effectively if their emotional needs are not attended to.
Both of these things boil down to connection. Can you connect with your boot-camp trainer? Do they get you and how you think and work? Does your coach truly understand your needs and struggles? Are their methods effective for YOUR way of making sense of life and your capacity?
For me, clinically what this looks like is having clients who know that I take immense time to understand them, help them see their strengths and build on them, help them identify their hurdles and create effective plans to overcome them using their skill sets. They know that because I genuinely “get” them (because I have taken the time to listen and understand), that when I have insight that may be tough at first to take in, they are open to it knowing it is a gentle nudge forward over that hurdle that just seems a bit too high.
Why is this relevant to you? As a parent, it is no different for you and your tween.
You are your teen’s relationship coach, boot-camp instructor, and emotional wellbeing guardian. You need to GET your teen. They cannot follow any of your advice no matter how useful if they don’t trust you or your advice.
So what gets in the way of that trust?
1) strategies offered to solve problems without taking time to understand the problem fully from your kids perspective
2) solutions offered without any care given to the emotional experience the teen is going through
3) solutions that are more like behavioral guidelines that make YOUR life easier as a parent but don’t actually meet your kids emotional or developmental needs
4) absence of solutions, strategies, emotional care, connection
Now if you are reading this then we can cross number 4 off that list because it doesn’t apply. You care BIG time and you have probably done so much research or even attended some of our webinars, so you KNOW you have effective strategies and solutions. You are showing that your goal is to connect and support your teen.
Let’s look into the other three roadblocks that might be getting in your way:
1) Do you keep suggesting your child try something (genuinely knowing it WILL work) but they keep not doing it? Perhaps you need to take more time to understand what is getting in the way of them using that strategy.
For example: Your kid struggles to self-motivate when they have homework. You come up with a wonderful step by step plan on how to break tasks down into manageable bits.
They still don’t get their homework done. WTF? (That’s your inner voice speaking, I can hear it. I get it).
Taking the time to understand how they process homework-time may illuminate for you that it’s not about having manageable chunks, it’s that their teacher doesn’t explain concepts to them well enough and then they get chastised for making small mistakes. Homework is a trigger and they don’t feel equipped to handle the stress of not being able to demonstrate their knowledge perfectly.
I would avoid homework too if that were the case.
Suddenly your solution doesn’t fit. It needs an extra step to better support a teen who is feeling panicked emotionally about even approaching the task. Not that they don’t have the skill set.
2) Do you find that you are often telling your teen what they need to do to improve their emotional state but for some reason* their emotional state is not improving? Or it’s getting worse?
*If you are a longtime reader of this newsletter you picked up on my subtle (not so subtle) sarcasm. For some reason? Could it be that we often completely forget to acknowledge their emotional state, and thus exacerbate it?
(ooopppsss there is that confrontational boot-camp instructor coming out). Hopefully you trust me!
This is the number one mistake EVERYONE makes AT ALL TIMES (bold statement). We rarely validate other people before we jump into fixing them.
Try pausing your solution next time your teen is “overreacting” and just reflect back to them what you think they are feeling.
E.g. When I said this, you felt this…is that correct?
Welcome to calm-down central. It will be a breath of fresh air.
3) Which brings us to identifying whether our solutions and strategies are meeting their needs, or if actually they are all about our needs.
How many times have you tried to reduce your kids attitude or emotional stress or neediness on homework because YOU were overwhelmed, exhausted, and just couldn’t take anymore and just wished they would behave already?
I read an amazing article recently (about neurodivergence in children which applies to all parenting) and it stated that what makes for great kids makes for bad adults.
Are you wanting to raise a great kid, or a great adult?
A “great” kid is one who is quiet, listens, does what they are told. As an adult that person people pleases, doesn’t know their boundaries, doesn’t speak up when in danger. Yikes.
A “difficult” kid, meaning one that makes their needs and emotions known, one that is defiant and confrontational, well that is an adult who asserts their boundaries, advocates for their needs and doesn’t take crap. That is an adult who can navigate the world with ease and without fear, anxiety, guilt.
Perhaps this perspective will help you next time you want your kid to settle down. First ask, is this behaviour actually a good thing? And then you can work on helping them craft the behaviour in a way that is more amenable to healthy relationships.
Too often we raise kids to be quiet and passive because it makes our lives easier, without recognizing that kids need particular skills to be healthy adults and that the learning curve for them figuring out those skills simply means there will be some tension at times as they develop and grow.
So what do they need? To be told how to behave? Or to be supported in emotionally regulating themselves so they can better advocate for their needs and be heard? Rhetorical question. I’m just giving away these answers for free.
So are you called to connect or confront? Here’s what it comes down to:
Confrontation is about asserting your needs and wishes so that parenting is easier for you (ouch truth bomb. There is that boot-camp instructor again).
Connection is about understanding someone’s emotional experiences and needs so you can help them navigate it more effectively and thus shape their growth in healthy ways.
And just as a reminder: If you need to confront (at times it is necessary for safety and clarity), that teens won’t be able to hear what you have to say until they are emotionally regulated. The best way to help them calm down so they can take in what you need to teach them is to connect first.
And I know you got this! I truly, truly believe in you.