Relationships Counselling for Parent and Older Child Dyad
I am a Couples and Relationships Counsellor. I see couples and sometimes parent/adult children for Relationships Counselling. What I have learned about parenting children, adult children and healthy relationships is if you want to find out any information from them. Don’t ask them.
Instead set up a situation where they feel safe to share what is on their mind. Asking direct questions usually shuts them down. Try to get involved in what they are doing. If they are trying for their driver’s licence take them out on long straight drives at night. Marmion Avenue is great for this. Long and straight and generally safe. In the warm/cool environment of the car, sitting side by side, with virtually no eye contact and the relaxing repetitive hum of the engine, chat about neutral subjects, books, movies, hobbies anything that is at least two degrees of separation from their issues.
When they start talking about things bothering them, that is the cue for you to shut up. Listen. Actively listen. With both ears. Clear your mind. Don’t think of what you are going to say next. The butterfly has landed on your hand, so you need to be still, quiet and mindful. You may hear something you don’t like. Keep on buttoning that lip. Nod your head and make affirmative listening noises. Uh huh, Mmmm, yeah, yeah, etc, etc.
So, what do you do with what you have just heard? You might be horrified, want to give advice or even worse “constructive criticism”, want to tell them how stupid they are to think that way, carry out that behaviour. You are possibly now being scary and judgemental at this point. They may clam up, and the precarious trust you may have built up will disappear. That is not going to be helpful.
Validate their feelings, not the behaviour. In fact, validate, validate, validate. That is where the relationship can be at, or can start.
“It must be awful to feel that way.”
“I hear you.”
“Is there anything I can do that will be helpful for you?”
Your child may answer to the last question, a flat-out no. That is ok. They know where you are and if they want help, they will ask. Eventually. Or not. So now try to let go. And wait. See what happens. Unless it is criminal, or illegal or they are in danger to self or others, this is a waiting game.
And while you wait, perhaps invite them out for coffee, shopping, movies or a walk. If they say no, then chances are they don’t want to do this with you, but it’s opened up a door, a communication channel. That might be useful in the future, for another issue, perhaps. Or not. Inviting them out could produce anxiety or relief. They may see it as Mum/Dad care, but they just can’t do that right now.
Be emotionally available to them, even if you are not an emotionally available person and are more solution focussed. Older kids might not want rescuing, or fixing, or have “deep and meaningfuls.’ They just may need you as a sounding board to work out their own solutions against. This is where you really need to hone your intuitive skills, your gut instinct. What do they want from you? They may not know it themselves.
Listen. Listen. And then listen some more. Nod your head wisely and when you do end up saying something, please note the tone of your voice. What is your body language saying to them? What are they seeing when they look at your face? Practice how you present in front of the mirror. How do you come across to you? Like an ogre waiting to pounce? Or an empathic, caring, compassionate listener with a quizzical look on your face, nodding affirmatively, and maybe raising your eyebrows lightly in solidarity when they reveal a long-kept secret.
Are you the sort of person someone would like to confide in?
Would you confide in yourself?
Children need secrets and to feel safe and secure if they wish to seek support, just as adults do.
Cartoon photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alpha/6596121