I have 2 young people living at home and my husband and I have been intentional in our working to create the positive relationships we now enjoy with each of them. That work has been primarily about addressing our own unrealistic expectations and beliefs about how they should act and what they should be doing at any particular age.
Frequently parents come to counselling requesting that I facilitate change in their young person. I generally find that it is not the young person who must change (they already have enough on their plate) but the parents beliefs and expectations about their young person.
Here a few suggestions to think about:
1.Don’t sweat the small stuff
A messy bedroom, curfews, money management , dietary habits, dress, friendships and sexuality are just some of the issues that become points of conflict with your young person.
It is worthwhile to ask yourself if the issue that is particularly causing conflict is worth sacrificing your relationship over. In my own experience , I have come to recognize that when I am able to tolerate and accept my young persons approach to life, they are more likely to respect my approach and be willing to negotiate aspects of our living together that are causing significant problems.
Of course, where a young person is clearly at risk or putting others at risk, it is important that parents are proactive in negotiating safe boundaries, doing so with kindness and respect for them as a person.
2. Be encouraging
It is very easy to fall into the trap of speaking negatively to your young person. When we are feeling frustrated, anxious, disappointed and helpless we frequently communicate those feelings by our talk, our body language and our behaviour. Your young person, already feeling confused and insecure about themselves, hears the message reinforced that they are a failure, incompetent, and hopeless. It is likely that they will either shut-down and not communicate with you or get angry and act out. Both of these responses are your young persons attempt to protect and defend themselves from further negativity.
Become a good detective and learn to pick up on what your young person does well. The smallest achievement can be congratulated and encouraged and your relationship will benefit.
3. Be approachable
Be available. This sounds self- explanatory however your young person is very astute at picking up whether you are emotionally as well as physically available to them. If you say you are available but continue to work on your lap-top while your young person try’s to address you, you are sending a conflicting message.
Be respectful. Remember that your young person is growing towards adulthood and is wanting to be treated like an adult. Learning to contain your frustration as a parent and respect them as another adult, will in turn, encourage them to be respectful of others, including yourself.
Listen without giving advice . Have the courage to let them work it out for themselves. They might make mistakes, even fall flat on their face, but our best teacher is experience itself.
4. Trust the process
Your young person is going through a complex developmental transition . This transition, driven by the biological imperative to separate from their parent and become autonomous, is a lengthy process for human beings because the development is occurring at a number of levels; physical, cognitive, emotional, psychological and socially.
Internal chaos and confusion occurs in the young person because each aspect of the person is changing at a different rate. For instance, we know that a young male generally maturates physically and sexually before he maturates emotionally and psychologically. We also need to be aware that when any potentially traumatizing experience occurs during this stage, that one or more aspects of development are likely to be delayed.
Be patient, trust the process and remember that over time, as the developmental transition occurs, your relationship with your young adult is likely to be richer and more satisfying having made the effort to remain connected with them through a difficult stage of life.
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