There are some mornings when I wake up with a knot in my stomach and questions on my mind. Maybe you’ve been there too. (Or questions and worries nag you while you’re trying to sleep at night.) The questions go something like this: “Am I doing this parenting thing right? Are my kids going to choose to follow Christ? Are they going to be OK?”
Coaching parents has been the greatest joy in my professional life! I’ve seen countless kids’ lives change for good while witnessing greater parent confidence and satisfaction. Those results are why I stopped providing therapeutic services to teens and began coaching parents.*
In my experience, the power and influence of a parent with a plan can alter even the most dire family struggles.
Ten years of working with teens labeled as EBD, ODD, ADHD, OCD, or just plain “at-risk”, brought me to a place of seeking my master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and my license in Marriage and Family Therapy. I wanted to help families, not just teens, because behind hurting teens are hurting parents.
As a parent coach, primarily working with parents of teens, I’ve found commonality in the issues parents want to address – especially wanting their kids to obey. NOW!
For the past 20 years, I’ve been doing some form of helping parents and I really enjoy it. I love the unique stories and challenges, and equipping families to find new insights and practical tools. I thought I’d heard everything – but one particular coaching session surprised even me!
When coaching with intense parents Heather and Steve*, the conversation turned to Steve’s tendency to get easily angered and frequently swear when challenged by his son Zach. It’s what Steve had learned in his home growing up. As soon as Zach’s behavior began to feel out of control, Steve would dominate, intimidate, and swear until Zach complied. Now that his little boy was equal height, close to equal weight and learning the same pattern, their relationship was deteriorating rapidly.
Do you have a teen or pre-teen that is tough to motivate regarding school? Perhaps this scene seems familiar: Your daughter is consistently behind with schoolwork and does the minimal amount to keep adults off her back. When she does complete assignments they are disorganized and sloppy. You do your best to encourage her and she snaps back, “I don’t care about school! It’s stupid and useless. If you’d just stop nagging me I’d be fine!’
So you prepare yourself for battle and hope for the best. Something inside of you knows there is a better way, but you’re just not sure how to get there. You desire for your child to ultimately take responsibility for her life and pray your relationship isn’t damaged by the conflict.
There is hope! As a parent coach, working primarily with parents of teens, I’ve seen many parents find success, and I’d like to help you find it too. It helps to understand the cycle that often happens:
As parents, and as Christians, many of us place great value on prayer. But sometimes figuring out how to grow a culture of prayer can be difficult — especially if our personal prayer life is consistently a challenge. If we do not value prayer it is unlikely that our children will. God wants us to pray. God calls us to pray. Are we prepared to PRAY BIG as a family or do we feel like we are just “going through the motions”?
Our faces. They say a lot to our kids. Before the first words roll off our tongue, we’ve already begun communicating.
Studies show that between 60% – 90% of all communication is nonverbal, with 55% related to the face alone.*
Take a common scenario like your child leaving a trail of food, wrappers, or toys. What might go through your mind at a time like that? “I’ve talked to him about this for weeks, numerous times a day, and nothing has changed! This place is constantly a mess!”
Will my kids choose good friends? Will they do well academically? Will they make wise choices when I’m not around to guide them? It’s normal to consider questions like these. However, if the answer is “no” to any of those reflective questions, anxiety can begin to rise and often a parent’s effort to control their child rises right along with it. It’s the brain’s natural coping response – when feeling internally out of control, we try to take charge of the situation to feel less anxious. This kind of reaction can become problematic, because we are not wise or helpful parents when we’re anxious and controlling. (Imagine how it would feel to have a boss at work engaging with a dip in your performance by anxiously reading your emails and checking every report!)
The Anxiety and Control Cycle
Anxiety and Control are partners in crime. They rob us of joy, contentment and peace. They rob our kids of encouragement and independence. In my parenting, and as I’ve coached parents over the years, I’ve noticed the spiraling impact of anxiety and control:
The more anxious I am about my child, the more likely I am to project a negative future for them, and the more likely they are to begin living out that projection. This makes it easy it is for me to rationalize doing things for them that they ought to be responsible for themselves, which builds their resentment and resistance towards me, which feeds my anxiety… and the beat goes on.
Parents can get in ruts. That’s true for me and I’m pretty sure it is for you, too.
One rut that is familiar to many is the hurried race out the door because “we’re going to be late!!” Or how about the chaos of bedtime and the barking of orders that can consistently ensue? In our house lately it’s the questioning of completed homework and interrogating of my kids’ screens that is especially exasperating to all involved.
If we were to video ourselves at these times and watch it through the eyes of our kids, what would we see?
Last week I wrote about how my junior high daughter creatively and proactively asked for an iPod by preparing a well-thought-out list of answers to concerns she thought I might have. Here’s the rest of the story!
My daughter’s proactive list was a breath of fresh air and showed me a growing capacity in her to think more broadly about the impact of purchasing the iPod. Her pleasant, non-demanding tone was another sign of her maturity and thoughtful processing of the situation.
Some parents may believe that asking for the iPod in such an impressive manner should gain her access to it immediately. She deserves it, right? Others may view it as a form of my daughter manipulating me to get what she really wanted and saying yes will only mean more of this new “tactic”.
But here’s what happened in our situation:
My daughter approached me with a typical question — one I’ve heard one hundred seventy-three times (but who’s counting). “Dad, can I have an iPod Touch?”
But this time, her approach was different.
She made a good pitch — she had an unbelievable opportunity to obtain a friend’s iPod for the extremely reasonable price of $20. Having experienced this conversation with me one hundred and seventy-three times, she came with a written document that detailed her plan to address many of the questions or concerns she thought I would have. I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed!
The document was entitled, “If I got an iPod…” and went like this: