Knowing how to successfully support your struggling child is a valuable skill you will use throughout your lifetime.
Regardless of their age, you will be a parent whom your children will come to when under duress or making decisions. I believe we can build the greatest connections, sense of security, and thus joy with our children during these times. So embrace these growth opportunities with the confidence that you are strengthening your family’s foundation forever.
Parents often confuse when they should be the collaborator, discussed in a separate chapter, and when they should be the supporter or confidant.
Choose the supporter or confidant parenting role when: 1. your child is the person wanting to find a solution, and it directly affects only them; 2. the decision does not involve family rules, values, health, or safety; 3. with your support, the child is able to find a solution based on their age and maturity.
Give your children increased decision-making opportunities as they mature so they can experience success and failure before they leave home. Over protecting weakens them, which reduces their ability to live successful lives.
The Supporter Parenting Role is a Four-Step Problem-Solving Process. Choose this role when your child wants to discuss possible solutions with you and come to a decision with your encouragement.
The Confidant Parenting Role is only a Two-Step Problem-Solving Process.
You will empathetically listen as your child expresses their emotions and thoughts. They will make their decision after talking with you. In both roles, your presence and nonjudgmental listening provide your child’s brain a much needed opportunity to process, evaluate, and take actions with greater clarity and confidence. Details for each step can be found in other chapters.
Step 1: Stop Blocking Communication
In an attempt to “help,” adults often say things that shut down or block communication, which can lead to anger and hurt for everyone. A communication block, as defined by Michael Popkin, PhD., is any remark or attitude on the part of the listener that injures the speaker’s self-esteem enough to break communication. You will feel the invisible wall go up instantly when this happens.
Examples of blocks are commanding, giving unwanted advice, placating, interrogating, distracting, psychologizing, sarcasm, moralizing, being a know-it-all, me-tooism, and yelling. Your awareness of how your comments impact others’ willingness to talk will improve your communications in many situations outside of the family, as well.
Step 2: Listen Openly
The crucial “listen openly step” of problem solving develops empathy and a deeper level of connection and influence. Children cannot discuss ideas logically when they are in an emotional state. They will refuse to “move on” and be logical until you have listened respectfully and responded with empathy and nonjudgment to their thoughts and feelings.
Pushing your child to discuss solutions before they are ready demonstrates your need to get resolution, rather than your desire to support your child’s own problem-solving process.
Tuning in to your child’s process allows time for better self-understanding, which will lead to improved problem solving in step 3. Delay the evaluation of ideas until step 3.
Here are examples of responses that can release your child’s tensions and build empathy between you. These phrases are useful for supporting adults, as well. This is the final step when you are in the confidant parenting role.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“That seems really hard.”
“You seem frustrated (hurt, upset, etc.).”
“That sounds like a real problem.”
“It’s hard to know what to do.”
“I can see why you are upset (want to quit, having a hard time, don’t want to do it, etc.).”
“I’m here if you need me.
“It looks like you’ve worked hard.” Paraphrasing what they have said.
Step 3: Discuss Ideas and Choose a Solution
In the supporter parenting role, you brainstorm ideas together, evaluate possible outcomes, and the child decides which solution to try first. They will learn from their successes and failures. Practice self-restraint and do not tell your child what to do.
Keep these thoughts in mind while discussing ideas together.
- One of the greatest life skills I can teach my child is how to face problems head on and solve them, rather than being afraid and defeated by them.
- I need to give my child permission to choose their own solution so they will learn how to take responsibility for their actions, rather than blaming others. This is my child’s problem to solve with my support.
- I will teach that if the first solution doesn’t work, try another solution because we learn from our mistakes.
- My child has their own path to follow so I don’t have the right to tell them what to do.
Examples of problem solving conversations.
- “Let’s think about some possible things you could do to solve this problem.”
- “It’s hard to know what to do, and I don’t know what you will decide in the end.”
- “I’d like to help you think about it.”
- “What’s one possible solution? What do you think would happen if you do that?”
- “What’s another possible idea? “
- “I have an idea. Would you like to hear it?”
- “There is no right answer so we can come up with many possibilities.“
- “Of the ideas you’ve come up with, which one would you like to try first?”
Step 4: Follow-up to determine success and try another idea, if needed.
Your follow-up conversation can be as casual as, “How did it go with solving the problem we talked about?” Perhaps it went well and you will celebrate together. If, during your problem-solving discussion, it was made clear that the first choice doesn’t always work out, then any disappointment will be easier to share.
If they haven’t taken action yet, it may be helpful to go back to step 2 and allow time to listen openly to their feelings and thoughts that are keeping them from moving forward. Perhaps their decision is too scary and they need additional encouragement that they can handle whatever happens.
They may also need to hear that not taking action is as much a choice as taking action. Or maybe they want to try another idea. Listening and having confidence in their maturing brain as they struggle will give them self-confidence, as well. Your child needs to know you are not expecting perfection and are not judging them.
Continually look for opportunities to solve problems together, rather than telling your kids what to do. Reflect on problem ownership so you select the proper parenting role for each situation. Problem solving develops self-esteem, so allow many opportunities to struggle and win together.
Read about how to determine whether to be a supporter, confidant, collaborator, or director with your children. Whose Problem Is It to Solve?
To learn how Cynthia can help you solve your specific challenges, contact Cynthia at bridges2understa.wpstagecoach.com, , or 650. 679.8138 to have a complementary 45-minute discovery session. Why keep suffering? It’s time to change!
©2015 Cynthia Klein, Bridges 2 Understanding, has been a Family Success Coach since 1994. She works with parents and organizations who want more cooperation, mutual respect and understanding between adults and children. Cynthia presents her expertise through speaking and private parenting coaching sessions. She writes the Middle School Mom column for the Parenting on the Peninsula magazine. She works with parents of 4 – 25 year-old children.